This is the sixth of our 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. The post looks at housing law developments from March 2014 to May 2014.
Please feel free to submit a comment below or send us an Ask query 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.
Bedroom tax justified as payment of DHPs overcame potential discrimination (Rutherford v others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)
The High Court has held that the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which introduced the so-called “bedroom tax” reducing the amount of housing benefit payable where rented accommodation is assessed as being under-occupied, were not discriminatory because in this case the claimants were receiving discretionary housing payments (DHPs) from their local authority to cover the shortfall in their rent caused by the reduction in their housing benefit. The implications of this decision are potentially far-reaching, as the judgment appears to suggest that the scheme is lawful provided that those who would suffer discrimination due to the scheme without DHPs continue to receive them to make good any shortfall. As such if a local authority decides to refuse to award DHPs in a case where an individual has had their housing benefit reduced under the scheme (resulting in discrimination) then this could leave them open to future challenge.
SOCIAL HOUSING: GENERAL
Social housing rents
The DCLG has published a consultation on changes to social housing rents, which covers information on calculating formula rents and how rents should be calculated in the case of:
- Social rents.
- Affordable rents.
- Rents for social tenants with high incomes.
Regulation of social housing
The Homes and Communities Agency has published a statutory consultation on changes to the regulatory framework for social housing in England in order to protect social housing assets, which includes making changes to the disposals regime and to the criteria that applicants have to meet when they apply to join the register of social housing providers.
Social housing fraud
The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud (Power to Require Information) (England) Regulations 2014 and their Welsh equivalents have been made and have come into force. The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 creates offences relating to sub-letting and parting with possession of social housing and also makes provision for the investigation and prosecution of social housing fraud offences. These Regulations give investigating bodies powers to require information for housing fraud investigation purposes.
Local authority role in housing supply
The DCLG has issued a call for evidence on a review of the role of local authorities in housing supply including how they can support increased housing and identify any barriers to housing developments.
What constitutes a “surviving spouse” under the Rent Act 1977 (Northumberland & Durham Property Trust Ltd v Ouaha)
The Court of Appeal has held that an appellant was not a “surviving spouse” for the purposes of the Rent Act 1977 as the Sharia marriage that she had entered into was not considered to be a valid marriage under English law.
Section 184 decision notice: review (Farah v London Borough of Hillingdon)
The Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal against a decision which held that the appellant was intentionally homeless as she had failed to pay her rent in full in respect of her previous privately-rented property and had excessive expenditure. The Court held that the review decision was not a true “review” as it only repeated the wording of the original decision and also that there had been little effort to seek further information regarding any excessive expenditure even though the appellant had provided justification.
The decision is a reminder to local authorities to ensure that reasons for any review decisions are clearly set out in a section 184 decision letter, particularly in cases where an applicant has attempted to justify particular expenditure.
Welsh Government consults on housing and homelessness eligibility
The Welsh Government has published a consultation on allocation of housing and homelessness eligibility in Wales.
What is a storey? (Bristol City Council v Digs (Bristol) Ltd)
The High Court has considered what will amount to a “storey” under the house in multiple occupation (HMO) regime. In this case the High Court held that a private staircase and landings giving access to a two storey maisonette were not considered to be separate storeys for the purposes of the regime and as such did not require the property to comply with the mandatory HMO licensing regime. This decision provides welcome clarification for landlords.
Further sections come into force
Sections 1 to 7 and 13-14 of the Mobile Homes Act 2013 came into force on 1 April as provided for under the Act and the Mobile Homes Act 2013 (Commencement and Saving Provision) (England) Order 2014.
Obligation to accommodate (PK v Harrow Council)
The High Court has held that a decision by a local authority that it did not have an obligation to accommodate a mother with her two children was unlawful and a breach of their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The High Court considered that the authority’s decision that it did not have a separate obligation to the children’s mother had been taken without proper regard to any human rights assessment and the children’s rights under Article 8 of the ECHR. As the authority’s obligation to the children engaged Article 8, the authority had an obligation to provide accommodation to the children and their mother. The assessment that the authority had undertaken, and its notification of the decision, were therefore held to be unlawful.
The case is likely to be of interest to local authorities as it deals with the interaction between section 17 and section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and reiterates the importance of taking into account the Article 8 rights of children who are the subject of the assessment.
Possession proceedings in the case of anti-social behaviour (Southend-on-Sea Borough Council v Armour)
The Court of Appeal has held that an appellant who was an introductory tenant was able to rely on an Article 8 defence in a case concerning a possession order on the grounds of his alleged anti-social behaviour (which had since improved). The appellant had raised a defence under Article 8 of the ECHR. The Court of Appeal dismissed the council’s appeal holding that the point of the introductory tenancy regime was to test a tenant’s behaviour, and if that behaviour had improved, the improvement could be a factor in deciding whether it was disproportionate for the landlord to continue to insist on recovering possession.
The case is a rare example of an Article 8 defence succeeding in a possession claim and is likely to prove an attractive precedent for claimants.
GENERAL HOUSING CONSENTS
The DCLG has issued its response to its consultation on revising the general consents issued under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988.