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The outcome of this case was – in some ways – inevitable: no, an applicant cannot create a local connection by refusing to vacate temporary accommodation, previously provided to him in discharge of the Council’s duties prior to its decision that he did not have a local connection.
But the case of Minott v Cambridge City Council does provide a useful analysis of the limits of what applicants can do, when faced with a local connection referral pursuant to s198 and s199 of the Housing Act 1996.
Mr Minott lived with his father in West Bromwich until April 2018, when their relationship broke down and he became homeless. He helped his mother and siblings move to Cambridge, and was then working as a courier with a depot in Birmingham and spent time either sleeping in his van, sleeping on friends’ sofas, or staying with his mother in Cambridge.
Mr Minott made his application to Cambridge CC in March 2019 and (because he had dependent children) he was assessed as being entitled to temporary accommodation under s188. He was placed in temporary accommodation in Cambridge on 27th March.
Subsequently inquiries were made and Cambridge CC decided that Mr Minott’s local connection was with the area of Sandwell MBC in the Midlands, not with Cambridge. A referral was made and accepted by Sandwell MBC in August 2019.
On 19th August, Cambridge CC wrote to Mr Minott informing him that their duty under s188 had ended, and that his right to temporary accommodation now rested with Sandwell MBC. He was given notice to terminate his non-secure licence on 1st September 2019, but he refused to leave. Because he was present at the accommodation each time the Council attempted to change the locks, it was impossible to evict him (under s6 Criminal Law Act 1977).
On 17th October 2019, Mr Minott made a new homeless application, arguing that because he had resided in Cambridge for longer than 6 months (since 26th March), his circumstances had changed and he now had a local connection.
The central question for the Court was whether the 6 weeks between 2nd September (following termination of Mr Minott’s licence) and 17th October – spent unlawfully in the temporary accommodation – could count towards his residence in Cambridge.
The High Court held that the mere “passing of time” was not a change of circumstances; nor was the unlawful occupation of temporary accommodation.
The High Court was particularly unimpressed by the fact that Mr Minott had told Council officers that his reason for refusing to leave the temporary accommodation was so that he might frustrate the refusal of his homelessness application. That was “tantamount to a manipulation of the homeless statutory regime”.
The local connection regime operates in a “draconian” way (as was submitted on behalf of Cambridge CC): once a referral has been made by one housing authority, and accepted by another housing authority, the duties owed by the referring authority cease and the applicant is required to take up their accommodation with the new authority. If Mr Minott’s argument had been accepted, that would have left no incentive for applicants to comply with the regime.
There were therefore plenty of good policy reasons why the case put forward by Mr Minott was rejected: most importantly, if applicants were able to create a local connection by making an application in the geographical area of their choosing, going into temporary accommodation, and then refusing to leave until 6 months had passed, that would have the practical effect of stopping the local connection regime from operating at all.