26/03/2020

Draft in haste… Coronavirus restrictions and homelessness

Here are emergency regulations, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, made today. These, amongst many other things, deal with what commercial premises may open, or must be closed, and – to the point here – restrictions on individual movement. That latter is at paragraph 6:

Restrictions on movement
6.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living
without reasonable excuse.

But then at subpara (4)

(4) Paragraph (1) does not apply to any person who is homeless.

Homeless is nowhere defined in the regulations.

Now, we can guess what the thought was here. The street homeless have no place where they are living.

But ‘homeless’ covers a lot more ground than that, even before we get to the statutorily homeless under Part VII Housing Act 1996. Under Part VII, the ‘homeless at home’, the sofa surfing, those in temporary accommodation – whether under s.188 or s.193 – or many in refuges are all statutorily ‘homeless’.

“Yes, officer, that is my home, and I am outside it without a reasonable excuse, but it is a) not reasonable for me to remain living in the accommodation and b) it is not suitable accommodation for me to remain in beyond the short term. May I refer you to Birmingham City Council (Appellants) v Ali (FC) and others (FC) (Respondents) (2009) UKHL 36″.

Not for the first time, we must point out that everyone needs a housing lawyer with them at all times.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

4 Comments

  1. Bev Shields

    The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020

    Restrictions on gatherings

    7. During the emergency period, no person may participate in a gathering in a public place of

    more than two people except—

    (a) where all the persons in the gathering are members of the same household,

    (b) where the gathering is essential for work purposes,

    (c) to attend a funeral,

    Restrictions on movement

    6.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living

    without reasonable excuse.

    (2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need—

    (f) to travel for the purposes of work, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

    (g) to attend a funeral of—

    (i) a member of the person’s household,

    (ii) a close family member, or

    (iii) if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;

    So it appears you can go to a funeral, but only if it is a family member or member of the household,

    Or only if no one else from the family is going then you may attend the funeral as a friend. – Would this be correct interpretation?

    Reply
  2. Greg Robbins

    To be fair, (1) if a person is sofa surfing they may not have a choice about leaving the place where they have been sleeping – or they may have a greater need to get outside dpeneding on what makes the home unsuitable for them, or (2) our wonderful legislation is replete with examples where words have different meanings in different (or even the same !) legislation or statutory guidance. In some cases the courts have to decide what the plain English meaning of a word is (I don’t think they referred specifically to ‘statutorily homeless) and so this is presumably intended to mean someone who has no home to go to. The current government are actually not re-inserting vagrancy laws through the back door, which is a pleasant surprise.
    I know that you’re aware of all this and making a different point about the drafting of legislation and how you create future arguments if the wording is imprecise (and I agree with you and wholeheartedly applaud your work, which is a great benefit), but in this case, with time limited legislation where the target is the general public and the concern is to get a message across (STAY PUT!) I’ll be a little more forgiving than usual. In fact I’m wondering who has started pulling their strings. A week ago I wouldn’t have believed any such action was even possible (flawed though it is).

    Reply
  3. Daniel N

    It does bring one question to my mind actually: If a homeless person is being provided interim accommodation, would they/an authority be in breach of any legislation or guidance arranging an allocation of part 6 accommodation?

    I mean on the one hand all the same health risks as in the estate market are present in allocating properties. On the other hand it would unquestionably be in the public interest not to leave social housing empty and to get vulnerable applicants into secure accommodation as quickly as possible in order to free up interim accommodation for other street homeless applicants. Difficult times all around.

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      Essential moves of accommodation are ok.

      Reply

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