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Government withdraws “indefensible” plans to scrap housing protections for asylum seekers the day before trial (8 February 2024)

Date: 08/02/2024
Duncan Lewis, Public Law Solicitors, Government withdraws “indefensible” plans to scrap housing protections for asylum seekers the day before trial

The Government abandoned its proposal to exempt asylum seeker accommodation from licensing requirements, following a High Court challenge by Duncan Lewis.



The reversal by ministers was disclosed shortly before a hearing in London on Wednesday, February 7, where a judge was set to review legal action brought by the company on behalf of eight asylum seekers against the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC).



Duncan Lewis represents eight asylum seekers (some of whom were recognised as refugees in the course of the proceedings) who mounted a judicial review challenge to the lawfulness of the Draft Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker) Accommodation (England) Regulations 2023 (the “Regulations”). The draft regulations would have exempted properties occupied by asylum seekers from the vital protections of the HMO licensing regime in Part 2 of the Housing Act 2004,



The case was listed for a final hearing in the High Court on 7 and 8 February 2024. In the afternoon of 6 February 2024, in the last working hour before the hearing was due to start, the Court and Claimants were informed that the Government had decided to withdraw the draft Regulations.



Mrs Justice Lang ordered that the defendant pay the claimants’ legal costs, and for them to pay the costs on an indemnity basis for the last period of the proceedings, due to the last minute nature of the concession made by the defendant without justification or explanation. The judge noted that significant costs were incurred and that this was particularly disappointing in light of the fact that all the parties were publicly funded.



In March 2023, the Draft Regulations were laid before parliament. They amended the definition of Houses in Multiple Occupation (“HMO”), so as to exempt accommodation for asylum seekers from any local authority licensing. The Draft Regulations would have removed the basic protections that currently govern HMOs, where those were occupied principally or solely by asylum seekers and their families. In the course of the proceedings, it emerged that the Draft Regulations were intended to apply to children up to the age of six. .



The claimants argued that the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities had acted unlawfully in adopting a policy of seeking to accommodate asylum seekers in unlicensed HMO accommodation and in laying the Regulations before Parliament. Their case was that the SSLUHC had no power to make the draft Regulations because, among other reasons, those frustrated the purpose of the licensing scheme in the Housing Act 2004, were irrational and unlawfully discriminatory.  The Claimants also asserted that the processes of inquiry followed by both Defendants had fallen far short of what was legally required, particularly in light of the grave anticipated consequences of the Draft Regulations, which included, on the evidence, heightened fire risks and overcrowding.



The Defendants’ approach to disclosure and candour in this case has been roundly criticised in satellite proceedings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. In those satellite proceedings, the Government has been told by the Courts that it is inconsistent with the principle of open government and with public authorities’ duty of candour routinely to redact the names of Junior Civil Servants when providing disclosure.



Jeremy Bloom, lead solicitor on the Claimants’ legal team Duncan Lewis, said:



“The Claimants have achieved something amazing today: the Government’s last-minute withdrawal of Regulations that would have reduced protections for asylum-seekers housed by the Home Office is a spectacular U-Turn. The claimants now have enduring protection. They now know that they will not be placed in accommodation that does not meet licensing standards, which are vital to fire-safety and for preventing overcrowding.



This is yet another example of the Government conceding at the last minute, wasting the Court's precious time and taxpayer's money in defending an indefensible claim. Crucially during a lengthy period of defending the claim, our clients and thousands of vulnerable people have been living in fear of being moved into unacceptable, unlicensed accommodation. The conduct during this litigation on the part of government has been shambolic. Questions should be asked as to why it didn't withdraw the Regulations months ago.



It is especially troubling that the two Secretaries of State have taken this approach in circumstances where the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities expressed to the Prime Minister, as early as November 2022, that he was strongly opposed to removing the licencing requirements for asylum accommodation.”



The Legal Team at Duncan Lewis consisted of Toufique Hossain, Angelo Monni, Jeremy Bloom, and Manini Menon. They instructed Laura Dubinsky KC, Michael Spencer, Zia Nabi, Sarah Steinhardt and Alice Irving at Doughty Street Chambers.  In the satellite redactions appeal, Duncan Lewis instructed Laura Dubinsky KC (Doughty Street) and Christopher Knight (11 KBW) as well as Sam Jacobs and Alice Irving of Doughty Street Chambers.



Duncan Lewis is profoundly grateful for the evidence put forward in support of the claim by Chartered Institute of Housing, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, London Borough of Newham, London Borough of Lewisham, NACCOM, London Property Licensing, Shelter, JCWI, RAMFEL, and individual specialists in the field, among others.



Duncan Lewis Solicitors



Duncan Lewis Solicitors, an award-winning law firm, is renowned for its exceptional legal services and commitment to justice. The company employs a team of highly skilled solicitors offering top-tier representation in 25 fields of law, and ranked as top tier by the Chambers and the Legal 500 legal guides, and as one of the top 250 law firms in the country by the Times. Duncan Lewis was crowned Law Firm of the Year at the Modern Law Awards 2023, further establishing its credentials as one of the leading law firms in the UK.



Read the full judgment here:



https://www.duncanlewis.co.uk/OnlineLinks/HMO%20DL%20press%20release-07-02-2024.pdf



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