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Social Housing Speed Read – Appeals and the reasonableness of delay

The recent homelessness case of Al Ahmed v The Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets saw the Court of Appeal consider what constitutes a 'good reason' for submitting an appeal outside of a prescribed time limit.

Mr Al Ahmed’s case concerned the failed homelessness application under S204 of the Housing Act 1996 that he had previously submitted to his local council (“the Council”). The Council had found that he was not a priority for housing as a single male and notified him of their decision in early April 2018. They stated that Mr Al Ahmed had 21 days in which to appeal.

On 25 May 2018, the council received Mr Al Ahmed’s appeal; out of time. The council of course challenged this submission, but the County Court at Central London granted permission for Mr Al Ahmed to appeal despite missing his deadline. This decision was then reversed in the High Court in favour of the Council, as Dove J stated the he did not believe the requirements of bringing a homelessness appeal to be particularly taxing. Mr Al Ahmed challenged the Council for a second time and his case was heard on 30 January 2020.

It was argued on Mr Al Ahmed’s behalf in the Court of Appeal  that those in need of housing were at a great disadvantage in the drafting of necessary documents on appeal and painted a ‘bleak picture of the difficulties faced by homelessness applicants’. Shelter, who intervened in the case,  submitted comprehensive evidence concerning the barriers that such persons are to overcome that would affect their ability to submit an appeal. The lack of legal aid was raised and the struggles in obtaining it highlighted.

The Court of Appeal agreed that the difficulties associated with seeking legal representation for such individuals was a valid reason for submitting an appeal out of time. The courts are therefore afforded with the discretion to allow such appeals in future. However, circumstances such as the above will need to be considered carefully on a case by case basis. Factors to be considered include the efforts made by each applicant in their quest to actively seek help and their intention to submit their appeal on time.

This case highlights the Court’s leniency towards vulnerable persons in their efforts to seek housing. Although this case is a homelessness decision, housing associations and councils alike should take heed of the decision as it becomes increasingly important to provide flexibility to service users when dealing with important issues – particularly where a party is unrepresented; as Inside Housing reported this week, this is becoming very common. Housing legal aid cases have fallen by 39% since 2010 as a result of the removal of support for some types of cases and a reduction in the number of practitioners as a result of cuts.  .

The judgement provides helpful guidance as to what approach should be taken in the above circumstances. A full version can be found here.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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