This post looks back at some of the key developments in housing law in 2013 and highlights the impact these developments (and others that are expected) are likely to have in 2014.
If you are particularly interested in any expected development in this area expected in 2014 (whether set out below or not) please do not hesitate to get in touch with our editorial team by leaving a comment below or by submitting a query through the Ask system.
Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013
On 31 January 2013, the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill received Royal Assent to become the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. The Act was brought into force in October 2013 by the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud 2013 (Commencement) (England) Order 2013 (SI 2013/2622).
Among other things the Act creates new criminal offences of unlawful sub-letting by secure and assured tenants of social housing and provides for:
- The prosecution of these offences by local authorities and private registered providers of social housing.
- Courts to make orders for the recovery from defendants of profits made from unlawful sub-letting, either following conviction or in separate civil proceedings.
It will be interesting to see throughout 2014 how many local authorities make use of these enforcement powers and if it has an impact on the current levels of social housing tenancy fraud (see the Audit Commission’s report, Protecting the public purse (2013) for more information).
Right to buy
2013 saw a dramatic increase in the number of tenants exercising the right to buy in 2013 with government statistics, stating that between July and September 2013, local authorities sold an estimated 2,839 dwellings under the right to buy scheme. This is nearly three times the amount sold during the same time period in 2012 (see DCLG: Right to Buy sales in England: July to September 2013 (November 2013)). The government is keen to maintain this momentum and introduced a number of measures in 2013 and 2014 to encourage an even greater take-up of the scheme:
Draft Deregulation Bill 2013-14
On 1 July 2013, the government published the draft Deregulation Bill 2013-14, as part of the government’s drive to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. Among other things the Bill proposes to amend to section 119 of the Housing Act 1985 to reduce the qualifying period from five years to three years for tenants of a local authority to exercise their right to buy their home under Part 5 of the Act. For more information on the right to buy, see our right to buy flowchart.
Increase in the right to buy discount for properties in London
On 20 March 2013, the Housing (Right to Buy) (Limit on Discount) (England) Order 2013 (SI 2013/677) was made. The Order came into force on 25 March 2013. The Order prescribes £100,000 as the maximum discount in respect of a dwelling house in the area of a London authority that a person exercising the right to buy under Part V of the Housing Act 1985 (HA 1985) may be entitled to.
Housing (Wales) Bill 2013-14
On 18 November 2013, the Welsh Government introduced the Housing (Wales) Bill, which, if enacted, will:
- Reform existing homelessness law in Wales by requiring local authorities to carry out reviews of the level of homelessness in their areas and put together homelessness strategies for preventing homelessness.
- Amend the current categories of “priority need” so that ex-prisoners will no longer automatically considered to be in “priority need”. The Bill places a duty on local authorities to find housing for a wider range of people that present themselves as homeless. This change follows a consultation amidst concerns that other vulnerable, non-offending applicants are being overlooked for accommodation as local authorities are required to house “priority need” former prisoners.
- Set standards on rents, service charges and quality of accommodation provided by local authorities.
- Abolish the Housing Revenue Account subsidy.
For more information on how the Bill affects those in the private rented sector, see our update.
The Bill will be considered by Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee at various dates between January and March 2014.
Disposal of privately-let housing at less than market value
On 5 August 2013, the government published a consultation on the general consents issued under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988 (LGA 1988). The consultation proposes removing the requirement on local authorities to seek specific consent from the Secretary of State to dispose of the following privately-let housing accommodation at less than market value:
- Vacant housing land (creates a new general consent “AA”).
- Vacant dwellings to other registered providers of social housing (that is, social landlords regulated by the Regulator for Social Housing) (amends general consent B).
The consultation proposals are intended to help local authorities make best use of all their assets to promote growth in the economy. If the consultation proposals are adopted in 2014.
For more information on the ability of local authorities to dispose of land, see our update.
Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14
On 9 May 2013, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 was introduced to Parliament (for more information on the background to the Bill, see our update). When it is in force, the Bill (which is at the committee stage in the House of Lords) will overhaul the existing anti-social behaviour regime and replace anti-social behaviour orders and injunctions. Part I of the Bill provides for local authorities and housing providers to apply for injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance where the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person and a court considers it just and convenient to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in anti-social behaviour. In addition, the Bill proposes introducing a new mandatory ground for possession in relation to secure tenancies where a tenant has engaged in anti-social behaviour which would apply where certain conditions have been met.
The Bill had its Report stage in the House of Lords on 8 January 2014.
Social housing rent limit reform
On 31 October 2013, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation on proposals to change the way that the annual increases of social housing rents are calculated. Among other things, the consultation proposes ensuring that the rent limits from 2015 will not apply where a social tenant household has an income of at least £60,000 a year.
Allocation schemes guidance
On 14 October 2013, the government published a consultation on proposals to issue new, additional statutory guidance on social housing allocations for local authorities in England, to help them to make use of the increased freedom under the Localism Act 2011 to decide who should qualify to go on the waiting list for social housing in their area.
The consultation proposals included encouraging all local authorities to adopt a two-year residency test as part of their qualification criteria for social housing (although other qualification criteria should be considered so that individuals who can demonstrate a strong association to the local area are not disadvantaged) and ensuring that local authorities have (and publish on their website) a clear policy about the collection and publication of waiting lists and lettings information.
The consultation closed in November 2013 and the additional statutory guidance was published on 31 December 2013.
Challenges to housing benefit “bedroom tax” changes
In July 2013, the High Court in R(MA) Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 2213 dismissed a judicial review action which argued that changes to the housing benefit rules made by the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/3040) discriminated against disabled people. The Court held that although the changes could be considered to be discriminatory on the basis of previous case law, they were proportionate and alternative mitigating measures had been considered.
The decision has been appealed and the appeal is listed to be heard by the Court of Appeal at the end of January 2014. It will be interested to see if the decision is upheld on appeal and if not whether the government will be forced to amend its “bedroom tax” policy.