Supreme Court: Resources are relevant to the question whether a mandatory order should be made compelling compliance with a statutory duty

R (Imam) v Croydon LBC [2023] UKSC 45
28 Nov 2023

Public Law and Judicial Review, Housing, Local Government

To what extent is an absence of resources relevant when a court is considering whether to grant an order compelling compliance with a statutory duty?

Ms Imam is a wheelchair user. She applied to Croydon London Borough Council for homelessness assistance. It concluded that it owed her the main housing duty, and provided her with temporary accommodation. It later concluded that the accommodation was not suitable for her because the bathroom was not on the same floor as her bedroom.

The claimant sought judicial review in respect of the unsuitability of the accommodation, seeking a mandatory order that suitable accommodation be secured within six weeks. Mathew Gullick KC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, dismissed that application principally on the basis of the authority’s limited resources: §81 of his decision. The Court of Appeal (Lewis LJ giving the only substantive judgment) allowed the claimant’s appeal, finding that the authority’s resources were irrelevant to the question whether a mandatory order should be made: §137 of its decision.

The Supreme Court (Lord Sales JSC giving the only judgment) has dismissed the authority’s further appeal, citing an insufficiency in its evidence before the Deputy Judge specifically as to the number of suitably-adapted properties it holds: §§58, 60. In doing so it accepted the authority’s submissions as to the relevance of resources and, crucially, held that the court in considering whether to make such order should be careful not to disrupt an authority’s existing plans for the allocation of its resources: §§45-53. Noting the separation of powers, and the need not to disrupt the authority’s own allocation of its resources, the Supreme Court also rejected the claimant’s assertion that the authority should be required to purchase a property if it did not have anything suitable within its portfolio: §§61-63.

The Supreme Court went on to give pointers as to the evidence authorities can be expected to give in future such claims, noting in particular that the court should be careful not to give “undue priority” to those who happen to be more litigious: §§67-71.

There is also a very important passage in which the Supreme Court clearly indicated that the particular duty in question, contained in s.193(2) Housing Act 1996, was a duty to secure accommodation “within a reasonable time”: §39.

No mandatory order was made; the claim will be remitted to the High Court. Read the full Supreme Court judgment here.

Kelvin Rutledge KC and Riccardo Calzavara appeared for Croydon LBC, instructed by Victoria Searle of Browne Jacobson LLP. Cornerstone Barristers are a leading set for both Public Law and Housing Law, frequently appearing in the higher courts in high profile cases.

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