Our quarterly housing law update blogs 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 September 2014 to November 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.
HOMELESSNESS AND ALLOCATION SCHEMES
Allocation scheme excluding those in long-term, suitable temporary accommodation is unlawful (R (Jakimaviciute) v Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council  EWCA Civ 1438)
The Court of Appeal has held that a housing allocation scheme under Part 6 of the Housing Act 1996 (HA 1996) that excluded those in long-term, suitable temporary accommodation was unlawful. The claimant (J) was owed a housing duty by the council and was placed in long-term suitable temporary accommodation with a private landlord. The council had then amended its housing allocation scheme in an attempt to reduce the number of people on its housing register, to align more closely with its limited housing stock, introducing a paragraph which specifically excluded those in J’s situation (paragraph 2.14).
The court ruled that paragraph 2.14 of the scheme breached the reasonable preference duty set out in section 166A of the HA 1996, by carving a sub-group from the statutory class of those entitled to reasonable preference under the HA 1996.
Decision to house applicant outside of local district was lawful (Nzolameso v City of Westminster  EWCA Civ 1383)
The Court of Appeal has held that the City of Westminster had properly offered to house an applicant (N) to whom it owed a housing duty accommodation outside of its own district. N had argued that the council’s decision to house her in Bletchley rather than Westminster was unlawful, but this was rejected by the court, which held that housing authorities should not be prevented from making sensible use of the housing stock available to them, regardless of whether it was in their districts.
Regulations made on social housing eligibility in Wales
The Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Eligibility) (Wales) Regulations 2014 have been made and provide which classes of person:
- Subject to immigration control will be eligible for social housing under Part VI of the HA 1996 or housing assistance under Part VII of the HA 1996.
- Despite not being subject to immigration control, are treated as being persons from abroad who are ineligible for housing accommodation or assistance.
TERMINATION AND EVICTION
Council housing department staff guilty of conspiracy in housing possession case (AA v London Borough of Southwark  EWHC 500 (QB))
The High Court has held that a social housing tenant was entitled to substantial damages after he was unlawfully evicted from his flat. The local authority was found guilty of civil conspiracy following a systematic failure by members of the housing team to follow proper legal procedures and abide by existing council policies, when evicting a tenant for rent arrears resulting in him becoming homeless and his belongings being destroyed.
This decision emphasises the importance of ensuring that housing staff are aware of both the legal requirements in possession cases and any local authority-specific mandatory guidance and that there are systems in place where decisions and key documentation are checked by someone who was not involved in the decision-making process.
NTQ served by single tenant does determine tenancy (Sims v Dacorum Borough Council  UKSC 63)
The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal against a Court of Appeal decision holding that Hammersmith and Fulham LBC v Monk  AC 478 was not incompatible with the appellant’s (S) Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (see Legal update, Confirmation that a joint tenant can unilaterally terminate a secure tenancy and no breach of ECHR rights (Court of Appeal)).
Although S was deprived of his property by his wife’s service of a notice to quit, this was specifically provided for in the tenancy agreement and the council was within its rights to refuse to allow S to remain in the property. No criticism could be made of the decision-making process and it was both lawful and proportionate for an order for possession to have been made.
LHAs entitled to evict from section 188 temporary accommodation without possession order or breaching Article 8 (R (ZH and CN) v London Borough of Newham and London Borough of Lewisham  UKSC 62)
The Supreme Court in a majority decision has confirmed that local housing authorities are not required to apply for possession orders in cases involving temporary accommodation pending a homelessness review decision under Part VII of the HA 1996. In addition, this will not amount to a breach of an applicant’s Article 8 rights.
Local housing authorities are likely to be pleased with this ruling and the fact that the court recognised that, had it ruled in favour of the appellants, a large administrative and financial burden would have been placed on local housing authorities already struggling to deal with overwhelming demand for their limited housing stock.
Supreme Court rules on calculation of secure tenant’s statutory damages following unlawful eviction (Loveridge v London Borough of Lambeth  UKSC 65)
The Supreme Court has allowed a tenant’s appeal against a Court of Appeal decision, restoring an order that required the council landlord to pay damages of £90,500 for unlawful eviction as provided for under sections 27 and 28 of the Housing Act 1988.
Partner not entitled to succeed to secure tenancy as did not meet additional residence requirement for those living as a spouse or civil partner (R (Turley) v London Borough of Wandsworth and another  EWHC 4040 (Admin))
The High Court has held that a partner of a secure tenant was not entitled to succeed to his secure tenancy on his death as she did not meet the requirement in section 87(b) of the Housing Act 1985 for her to have resided with the secure tenant for 12 months prior to his death. This requirement applies in the cases of those who lived with secure tenants as spouses or civil partners, but who were not themselves secure tenants.
T sought to succeed to the secure tenancy but was told she could not because of the section 87(b) requirement. T judicially reviewed the council’s refusal based on an alleged breach of Articles 8 (right to private and family life) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). T stated that the additional residence period requirement meant that those who were long-term partners of secure tenants and lived with them as spouses or civil partners but were not married or civil partners were treated differently and discriminated against.
The High Court ruled that although this could potentially lead to some future harsh decisions being made by the courts, it was not irrational or unreasonable for the condition to have been imposed by the legislation.
HOUSING BENEFIT FRAUD
NAO publishes report on housing benefit fraud and error
The National Audit Office has published a report on housing benefit fraud and error. Key findings in the report include:
- Housing benefit is the largest source of overpayments due to fraud and error compared to the other benefits that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) administers.
- There are a number of issues with how local authorities identify and tackle housing benefit fraud.
- The two main services introduced to share and match data (ATLAS and the Housing Benefit Matching Service) have fallen short of expectations.
2014 Autumn Statement
On 3 December 2014, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered the Autumn Statement.
One of the measures that the government outlined was increased investment in a new housing benefit fraud and error local authority incentive scheme, to reduce the current high levels of fraud and error experienced in both local and central government.
Homes and Communities Agency updates its guidance on land disposal
The updated guidance is intended to assist private registered providers understand the approach that the regulator takes to reaching a decision on the disposal of social housing dwellings and other land, whether under the General Consent 2010 or where applications for specific consent are made.
Bedroom tax does not infringe Article 8 rights of families with shared care arrangements (R (Cotton and others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors  EWHC 3437 (Admin))
The High Court has dismissed a claim for judicial review which alleged that the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/ 3040) breached the rights of families with shared care arrangements under Article 8 of the ECHR (right to respect for private and family life).
The Regulations provide for housing benefit to be reduced when a bedroom is not occupied. Bedrooms are deemed to be occupied by a child when the child lives with a person to whom child benefit is paid. Therefore, parents whose children live with them for part of the week but who do not receive child benefit, are subject to a housing benefit reduction.
Although Article 8 had been engaged, there had been no infringement of Article 8 rights as any disadvantage had been mitigated by the provision of discretionary housing payments to the claimants enabling them to remain in their current properties.
SOCIAL HOUSING GUIDANCE
Scottish Government updates housing support local authority guidance
The Scottish Government has published an updated version of its guidance for local authorities on the housing support duty to homeless households under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (as amended by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010).
Housing (Wales) Act 2014: first commencement order made
The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 (Commencement No 1) Order 2014 has been made and brought certain provisions of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 into force on 1 December 2014. This includes provisions in Part 4 allowing the Welsh Ministers to set standards for social housing, and provisions in Part 5 relating to the abolition of the Housing Revenue Account subsidy.