Court of Appeal clarifies the approach to be taken when restricting the amount of housing benefit payable to claimants in a women’s refuge

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Birmingham City Council v SS & Ors (Roshni intervening) [2016] EWCA Civ 1211 (30 November 2016) concerned a decision to restrict the amount of the eligible rent (the housing benefit payable) to two claimants (SS and SA) who were victims of domestic violence residing at a women’s refuge. Garden Court's Desmond Rutledge acted for the Intervener (Roshni).

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The accommodation was being provided by a small charity, Roshni, who had to raise the rent it was charging, following the loss of public funding which had previously been used to subsidise the rent it charged.

Birmingham City Council decided to reduce the eligible rent on the basis that the rent being charged was “unreasonably high” by comparison with the rent charged by other women’s refuges in the local area, pursuant to regulation 13(3) of the  Housing Benefit Regulations 2016 (in the form preserved from the pre-1996 scheme by the Constitutional Provisions). The Court of Appeal said this approach to regulation 13(3)(b) was flawed as the taking into account of public funding or subsidy, which the landlords in question could use to reduce the rents they charged, did not produce a true comparison.

The Court went on to say that any concerns the Upper Tribunal may have had about victims of violence being homeless or at risk at the homes they wished to leave if charities like Roshni were not able to afford to operate, were not relevant considerations under regulation 13(3)(b).

The authority did however have a wide discretion to have regard to the personal or financial circumstances of the claimant when deciding how much of a reduction should be made to the eligible rent (R (Mehanne) v City of Westminster HBRB [2001] 1 WLR 539), and the Court commented that there could be “an especially strong case” for applying a small reduction in a case involving accommodation provided to victims of domestic violence.

The Court allowed the Council’s appeal but sent the cases of SA and SS back to the Upper Tribunal to decide the issue afresh, observing that if the Upper Tribunal concludes that the rent is unreasonably high, it would then have to go on to consider, under the discretion in regulation 13(3), the amount by which the eligible rent should be reduced, and in doing that: “it would have well in mind what was said by Lord Bingham and Lord Hope in Mehanne”.

For the transcript of the judgment in Birmingham City Council v SS & Ors [2016] EWCA Civ 1211, click here.

Desmond Rutledge acted for the Intervener (Roshni) and was instructed by Mark Rodgers of MR Associates.

Desmond Rutledge is a member of Garden Court Chambers’ Administrative and Public Law Team and the Welfare Benefits Team.

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