Supreme Court gives landmark decision on mandatory relief in R (Imam) v Croydon

Martin Westgate KC and Sarah Steinhardt appeared for Ms Imam, the successful respondent, in the landmark case of R (Imam) v London Borough of Croydon, handed down today 28 November 2023. Ms Imam is a wheelchair user and mother of three, who has been living in accommodation accepted by Croydon to be unsuitable, since October 2014.

It is the first case on the issue of mandatory relief in public law proceedings to be heard by the Supreme Court, or any UK court, and considered when and how a court should make an order to enforce a local authority’s duty to secure suitable accommodation when it in in breach. The case therefore goes to the heart of individuals’ ability to give meaningful effect to their rights and entitlements under the homelessness provisions of the Housing Act 1996.

Rejecting Croydon’s appeal the Supreme Court held that the court at first instance had been wrong to refuse a mandatory order on the basis of budgetary constraints of a generalised nature. The starting point was that Croydon is subject to a public law duty imposed by Parliament by statute which is not qualified in any relevant way by reference to the resources available to Croydon. In principle, if resources are inadequate to comply with a statutory duty it is for the authority to use whatever powers it has to raise money or for central government to adjust the grant given to the authority to furnish it with the necessary resources, or for Parliament to legislate to remove the duty or to qualify it by reference to the resources available. For constitutional reasons to do with the authority of Parliament, the general position is that where Parliament imposes a statutory duty on a public authority to provide a specific benefit or service, it does so on the footing that the authority must be taken to have the resources available to comply with that duty. It is not for the court to examine the position with a view to possibly arriving at a contrary conclusion. Nor is a court entitled to dilute a clear statutory duty by reference to its own view of the resources available; nor may it absolve an authority in any general way from complying with such a duty by reason of the insufficiency (in the court’s opinion) of the resources available to it.

The case will be remitted to the Administrative Court to consider whether a mandatory order should be made.

Martin and Sarah were instructed by Polly Glynn at Deighton Pierce Glynn.

The judgment is available here