Social Housing Speed Read – Covid-19 and Injunctions
14th August, 2020
In Chichester District Council v Sullivan & Ors, the High Court considered the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on a decision to grant an injunction to remove a Gypsy settlement.
Whilst the case primarily concerns planning legislation, the judgment provides some interesting commentary regarding the relevance of Covid-19 and the weight that the Court might attach to the pandemic when considering injunctions.
The site has been occupied by Gypsy families since 2015 and is divided into a number of residential plots. A number of caravans and mobile homes have been installed on the site, as well as utility pipes and a tarmac access track.
The Council issued a series of enforcement notices and in November 2018, the residents were ordered to vacate and restore the site; however, they failed to do so. The Council subsequently sought an injunction.
In response, the residents raised a number of concerns regarding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and noted that they would have limited access to healthcare and washing facilities if they were required to vacate the site. The residents suggested that this was particularly problematic because a second wave of the pandemic was likely and further, track and trace measures “would not work for them”.
The residents also referred to the ’90 day automatic stay’ on possession proceedings (which was further extended until 23 August 2020). The residents suggested that whilst the stay did not apply to injunctions, it was still of some relevance.
The Court acknowledged the “extraordinary and pervasive” impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and confirmed that a “very careful appraisal” must be carried out. The Court considered the approach it would have taken in the absence of the pandemic and contrasted this with the impact of the current pandemic.
Notably, the Court held that the restrictions imposed by the Government had been “considerably eased” and that there was nothing to suggest that a local outbreak was likely.
The Court found in favour of the Council and granted the injunction; the Court held that the Covid-19 pandemic did not tip the balance against granting the injunction. Further, a second wave or a local outbreak could be managed and addressed by the Council.
Whilst this judgment specifically concerns planning legislation, it suggests that the Court will take a nuanced approach as to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and further, the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used as a carte blanche.
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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