Merritt v Thurrock Council & Midos Management Chelmsford County Court, 8 January 2021
Since soon after the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, letters from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Welsh Government have indicated that local authorities should attempt not to evict Gypsies and Travellers or should seek to identify alternative locations and should also look to provide services such as water, sanitation and refuse collection (see Issues Nos 50 and 51 of TAT News: https://www.communitylawpartnership.co.uk/noticeboard/links/tat-news).
The case of Merritt, albeit not concerning a Traveller, has effectively re-emphasised this message.
Ms Merritt and her daughter were placed in temporary homelessness accommodation by Thurrock Council under Housing Act 1996 s188. The property was owned by Midos and leased to the Council on a nightly basis for the purposes of homelessness accommodation. The Council offered Ms Merritt permanent accommodation under Housing Act 1996 s193. Ms Merritt refused this offer. After a challenge to this offer by Ms Merritt she was eventually evicted from the temporary accommodation but, shortly afterwards, she let herself back into the property. She was now a trespasser in the property.
Ms Merritt sought an injunction against the Council and Midos seeking an order that she be re-instated in the property. Ms Merritt’s application was dismissed by HHJ Karen Walden-Smith.
Midos sought an injunction against Ms Merritt that she should be compelled to give up the property. This application was allowed by the Judge.
The Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) Regulations 2021/15 extended the moratorium on evictions by the execution of a writ or warrant of possession until 21 February 2021. However the moratorium does not apply to trespassers such as Ms Merritt and such as Gypsies and Travellers on roadside encampments. Nevertheless HHJ Walden-Smith suspended the injunction awarded to Midos until the expiry of the moratorium on eviction.
This case involved an injunction action and an injunction is always a discretionary remedy. However, if a public authority took possession action against a trespasser (such as a Gypsy or Traveller on an unauthorised encampment ), in addition to the MHCLG and Welsh Government letters mentioned above, the court would have to take into account considerations under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the right to respect for private and family life and home).
Chris Johnson, CLP
14 February 2021
For further discussion of this case see the Nearly Legal website: https://nearlylegal.co.uk/2021/01/and-no-returns/
See Manchester CC v Pinnock  1 All ER 285. See also Friends, Families and Travellers Legal Briefing and Event: Supporting legal action related to COVID-19 and unauthorised encampments https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/appg-for-gypsies/legal-briefing-and-event-supporting-legal-action-related-to-covid-19-and-unauthorised-encampments/