This is the first of our new series of quarterly housing law update blogs, which will enable readers specialising in housing law to catch up on the most important cases, issues or developments. This post looks at housing law developments from December 2012 to February 2013.
Please feel free to submit a comment below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any views on the developments that are covered or if you think we have missed something that should be brought to the attention of housing practitioners.
Does “available for occupation” include separate units of accommodation? (Sharif v The London Borough of Camden  UKSC 10)
Overruling an earlier Court of Appeal decision, the Supreme Court has held that the meaning of “available for his occupation” in the Housing Act 1996 (HA 1996) does not require a local authority to ensure that a family is accommodated together in a single unit of accommodation . Although many local authorities may view this decision as positive and a way of alleviating their existing difficulties associated with housing families, several of the judges commented on the fact that the accommodation in this instance was temporary in nature. It is unclear whether the decision would have been different in the case of permanent accommodation offered in discharge of a local authority’s housing duty under the HA 1996.
Errors in review decision of homelessness application: does detriment matter? (Ibrahim v London Borough of Wandsworth  EWCA Civ 20)
The Court of Appeal has upheld a review decision by a local authority’s homelessness applications reviewer that had failed to act on a serious error in the original decision . The original homelessness decision stated that the London Borough of Wandsworth’s only obligation towards an intentionally homeless applicant in priority need was to give her advice and assistance. This was however incorrect, as a duty was owed under section 190(2) of the HA 1996 to secure accommodation for the applicant for a period it considered would give her a reasonable opportunity of securing her own accommodation. While the reviewer did correctly identify the legal obligation owed under section 190(2), the reviewer failed to issue a “minded to” letter under regulation 8(2) of the Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Review Procedures) Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/71). Further, the applicant was housed pending the outcome of the review and subsequent court hearings. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision on the basis that regulation 8(2) was not engaged and the applicant had not experienced any detriment.
Unilateral termination legally possible (Sims v Dacorum Borough Council  EWCA Civ 12)
The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by a joint secure tenant whose wife had ended their tenancy unilaterally holding that it was legally possible for her to do so based on the authority of Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council v Monk  1 All ER 1. In addition, the court also held that there had been no interference with the tenant’s Article 8 (right to respect home and family life) and Article 1 of the First Protocol (right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Criminal and anti-social behaviour
“Void” information non-disclosable (Voyias v IC and another  UKFTT 2011_0007 (GRC))
The First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) has held that the London Borough of Camden was right to not disclose information on vacant properties in its area (voids) relying on section 31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (prevention or detection of crime exemption).
Anti-Social Behaviour Bill: housing implications
On 13 December 2012, the Home Office published a draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.
The Bill includes measures to:
- Speed up eviction of anti-social tenants.
- Introduce a community trigger, which will give the public the right to require agencies to deal with persistent anti-social behaviour.
- Introduce a community remedy, which gives victims of anti-social behaviour a say in the punishment of offenders out of court.
Of key interest to housing practitioners are likely to be the new grounds for possession in relation to secure and assured tenancies on the grounds of anti-social behaviour and also the new discretionary ground for possession on the grounds of riot-related behaviour.
Article 8 (ECHR) decisions
Proportionality in the case of an introductory tenant (Southend-on-Sea Borough Council v Armour  EWHC 3361)
The High Court has dismissed an appeal by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council of a county court’s decision to dismiss its claim for possession of a residential property which the defendant occupied as an introductory tenant. It did so on the basis that the county court had correctly applied the case law which confirms that Article 8 requires the proportionality of a possession claim to be tested, having regard to the personal circumstances of someone who is at risk of losing their home.
Article 8 does not give additional unconditional rights (Thurrock Borough Council v West  EWCA Civ 1435)
The Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal by Thurrock Borough Council against a decision allowing the grandson of a social housing tenant (W) to remain in his grandparents’ house following their deaths despite never having been a tenant or sub-tenant of the property. The Court of Appeal held that even if W had been able to establish an Article 8 defence (based on the premise that it would have been disproportionate to evict him as he would then have required housing assistance from Thurrock Borough Council anyway) it would have been difficult to imagine a situation where Article 8 would give a tenant an unconditional right to remain in a property where they had no legal right to remain.