Housing Law Bulletin - Issue 301 – 25 February 2013

Monday 25 February 2013

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Housing Law News

Direct payment of housing benefit: Southwark Council is one of those undertaking a demonstration project of the proposed direct payment of housing benefit to social housing tenants. The council identified 2,000 benefits claimants to take part: 1,500 council tenants and 500 tenants of Family Mosaic housing association. Its key findings were that: (1) only 60% of the tenants identified were successfully moved onto the pilot scheme; (2)11% refused to take part or were unable to engage with the council; (3)14% were later deemed too vulnerable to take part; and (4) there was lack of understanding about personal finance among some tenants and others were unable to obtain a bank account. Based on these findings, the council has projected that its rent arrears for council tenants could increase by £14m when direct payment is implemented borough-wide. The estimated additional administrative cost will be in excess of £400,000 per year. For further details, click here. For an article encouraging social landlords to ensure maximum income recovery after the move to direct payments, click here.

Housing benefits and social housing: on 15 February 2013, to support housing associations communicate changes in housing benefit to their tenants, the National Housing Federation published an information leaflet about the main housing benefit changes, who will be affected and how tenants can get help and advice. For a copy of the leaflet, click here.

Rents in temporary accommodation:in October 2012 the DWP produced an update on its proposals for subsidy to help meet rents in temporary accommodation, in the light of the April 2013 welfare benefit reforms. For a copy of that update, click here. The National Housing Federation has since published a response, outlining the concerns of social landlords. For a copy of the response, click here.

Choices for social housing tenants:on 19 February 2013 the UK Government published a paper which highlights: (1) when social tenants in England are able to make choices about their housing; (2) where they can go to get more information; and (3) how they can complain if believe they are not being offered a choice. For a copy of the document, click here.

Housing data: on 23 February 2013 the UK Government released the English Housing Survey Headline Report for 2011-12. Key findings include: (1) the private rented sector has been growing in recent years and is at its highest level since the early 1990s, equalling that of the social rented sector at 3.8 million households; (2) average weekly rents in the private rented sector continue to be well above those in the social rented sector (£164 per week compared with £83). While mean rents have increased in both sectors since 2008-09, private rented sector rents showed no significant change from 2010-11; and (3) almost two-thirds (64%) of households in the social rented sector were in receipt of Housing Benefit, compared with around a quarter (26%) of those in the private rented sector. For the full report, click here.

The Latest Housing Case Law

Fuller digests of most of the cases noted each week in this Bulletin appear in an online, indexed and searchable database edited by Jan Luba QC and called the Case Law Digest. For details of that service, click here.

R (Dempsey) v Sutton LBC [2013] EWCA Civ, [2013] All ER (D) 260 (Feb)
21 February 2013

The claimant was disabled and lived in residential accommodation provided by the council and part-funded by the local primary care trust. The council decided that on 15 December 2012 it would move her to alternative accommodation. The claimant did not consider the alternative accommodation suitable for her needs. In November 2012 her solicitors asked the council for copies of the care plan and needs assessment on which the decision had been based. Despite reminders, that was not provided. On 14 December 2012 the claimant issued judicial review proceedings and obtained an interim injunction preventing her from being moved before a trial fixed for March 2013. The parties then negotiated an agreement under which the claimant would be accommodated at a disabled persons' unit with support. She applied for her costs. A High Court judge refused because: (1) she had issued the claim rather than pursue alternative remedies such as a complaints procedure; and (2) it was impossible to say which party would have succeeded at trial. The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal. Alternative remedies had been inappropriate in the circumstances of urgency and the outcome of the proceedings had achieved exactly what the claimant had sought.

Sharif v Camden LBC [2013] UKSC 17
20 February 2013

The claimant's household included her disabled father and a dependent younger sister. Camden owed the main housing duty under the homelessness provisions and performed it by providing a three bedroom house. Later, the council decided to provide two self contained units in a hostel. One for the father and one for the two sisters. The units were on the same floor of the hostel but a few yards apart. The Court of Appeal decided that the statutory obligation to provide accommodation for an applicant "together with" other household members (Housing Act 1996 s 176) could not lawfully be performed by the provision of two separate self-contained units. The Supreme Court (by a majority) reversed that decision. It held that the statutory test will be satisfied by a single unit of accommodation in which a family can live together but that it may also be satisfied by two units of accommodation if they are so located that they enable the family to live "together" in practical terms. Whether they are so located is a question of fact for the council on which a decision could be set aside only for error of law. For the judgment, click here.

Hooper v Oates [2013] EWCA Civ 91
20 February 2013

In early 2008 the claimants sold their house to the defendant for £605,000. But the defendant could not complete the purchase. Meanwhile, the claimants had bought another home and moved out. They tried to find another buyer but could not do so. They tried marketing for 14 months, then let it for six months, then tried selling it again and were still unsuccessful. They gave up and moved back in. The issue was the date on which the market value should be calculated for the purpose of calculating damages. Was it (1) the date on which the defendant breached the contract to buy or (2) the post-recession date on which they eventually gave up trying to sell? The judge and the Court of Appeal held that the latter was the correct date. For the judgment, click here.

Durani v Secretary of State for Home Department [2013] EWHC 284 (Admin)
19 February 2013

The claimant was a young Afghani national. He was arrested when found in the back of a lorry in Nottingham. Local social services carried out an age assessment and concluded that he was an adult, He was detained by the UKBA. He asserted that the assessment had been wrong and that he was a child. The High Court found that the age assessment had been manifestly flawed. The outcome had been recorded as 'inconclusive' and requiring 'further assessment' but none had been undertaken. Further, the social workers had not put their concerns about his asserted age to the claimant for comment. The detention had been unlawful and damages would be awarded. For the judgment, click here.

R (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2013] EWHC 233 (Admin), [2013] All ER (D) 186 (Feb)

15 February 2013
The claimant, a charitable trust, challenged the legality of the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) (Amendment) Order 2012, SI 2012 No.646 which came into force in April 2012. The effect of the Order had been to cap increases in housing benefit by reference to any increase in inflation rather than increases in local rent levels. The trust contended that: (1) the order had been made outside the powers given to the Secretary of State; and (2) there had been a failure to comply with the general equality duty. The High Court dismissed the judicial review claim. The primary statute had given the minister power to make the order and there had been no breach of the equality duty.

Morshead Mansions Ltd v Mactra Properties Ltd
15 February 2013

The claimant owned the leases of 19 flats in a block of flats. It brought a claim against the head landlord seeking accounts of the expenses and service charges payable under the leases. A judge made an order for their production and the landlord appealed. The High Court held that, on a true construction of the leases, the accounts were required to be produced. For the judgment, click here.

Health and Safety Executive v Phillip Keith Jones
11 February 2013

A householder experienced problems keeping his solid fuel fire alight. He asked the defendant, a chimney sweep, to sweep the chimney. The defendant encountered a blockage while sweeping but did not check to see if his brush had cleared the chimney pot (which would indicate the blockage had been cleared) and failed to carry out a proper smoke test after completing the work. The following day, the householder was found dead. He had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Investigations by the HSE and a solid fuel specialist revealed an extensive bird's nest inside the chimney. The defendant pleaded guilty to a breach of Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 section 3(2). At Cardiff Crown Court he was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 costs. For more details of the prosecution, click here.

Complaint against York City Council Report No. 11 021 734
11 February 2013

The complainant was aged over 60, had some learning difficulties and struggled to understand paperwork. She applied to the council for a 'home appreciation loan' for work to her roof. Under the scheme, the cost of the works would be registered as a loan charged against the title of her home. The Council and the Agency acting on its behalf: (1) included solid insulation in the schedule of work, although the loft was already adequately insulated; (2) misled her into believing the solid insulation was a requirement of the loan; (3) changed the insulation material to traditional roll-type material then did not fit the insulation material as it was not needed; (4) failed to keep adequate records of the changes to the roof tiles, the cost of the new tiles and the exact cost reduction resulting from the change; (5) failed to ensure the sign-off meeting was pre-arranged at a time convenient to the complainant; (6) failed to ensure a thorough inspection of the work and a proper record of that inspection; and (7) failed to deal with a complaint in a timely manner. The Council agreed to pay £2,000 compensation. For the full investigation report, click here.

Oxford City Council v Rukhsana Tariq
8 February 2013

The defendant landlady dumped her tenant's belongings outside his home, changed the lock to the front door and refused to allow him back in. Police tried to persuade her to allow the tenant to keep his belongings in his room over the weekend as he was unable to arrange storage but she refused. Following the eviction, the tenant was forced to sleep rough on several occasions. The defendant pleaded guilty to unlawful eviction. At Oxford Magistrates' Court she was given a community order with an unpaid work requirement of 80 hours and ordered to pay £460 compensation to the tenant as well as £1162.50 for the council's costs. For details of the prosecution, click here.

Paragon Housing Association v Manclark [2013] ScotSC 11
8 February 2013

The defendant was a secure tenant suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. She could not maintain her home. The garden was overgrown, weed-ridden and full of rubbish. In the home, internal doors had been removed or damaged, glazing to doors and windows had been smashed and boarded-up, and the interior was dirty, cluttered and malodorous. The property was an eyesore acting as a magnet for anti-social behaviour. The defendant would not co-operate with agencies attempting to help her, nor allow access. A move to more suitable sheltered housing had been arranged but was cancelled by the defendant. The association sought possession relying on the discretionary ground relating to "waste". The court found that the ground was made out and that it was reasonable to order possession. For the judgment, click here.

Bonham v Pentland Housing Association [2013] ScotSC 10
6 February 2013

The claimant was a tenant on the association's housing estate. In the early hours one morning, the tenant left her flat to investigate a noise. She was in the outside courtyard area when she fell fracturing her ankle. There were severe winter weather conditions and compacted snow and ice had built up on the surfaces of the external common parts. The tenant brought a claim for damages in contract and tort. The court held that the claim failed on the facts because the claimant could not account for how she fell. But, even if she had slipped on ice, the claim failed in contract because the tenancy agreement only required the association to "repair" and that term did not include clearing snow and ice. The claim in negligence would also have failed because there was no evidence before the court of the level or standard of care that a reasonable social landlord would have taken in the same circumstances. For the judgment, click here.

Leeds City Council v Henry
24 January 2013

The defendant was a private landlord with several multi-occupied properties in Leeds. He had been prosecuted by the council in March 2011 for operating two licensable HMOs without licences. In respect of several properties, he failed to provide gas safety and electrical safety certificates after numerous requests and also failed to comply with HMO licence conditions relating to fire safety. The council prosecuted again as a result of the disregard of tenant safety. At Leeds Magistrates Court the defendant was convicted and ordered to pay £8,400 in fines and £5,000 towards the council's costs. For details of the prosecution, click here.

Housing Law Articles

Recent developments in housing law
N. Madge and J. Luba
[2013] February Legal Action 33
For back issues of articles in this series, click here.

Was it all worth it? Article 8 defences since Pinnock
I. Miller
[2013] 13 February Local Government Lawyer
To read the article, click here.

Economic woes for Experts
P. Reddin
[2013] 17 Landlord & Tenant Review 1

Rental income from an unlicensed property - confiscation as the Proceeds of Crime?
K. Symons
[2013] 17 Landlord & Tenant Review 17

Anti-social behaviour laws could prove futile in fighting nuisance neighbours
J.Plant
[2013] 20 February Guardian Housing Network
To read the article, click here.

Housing Law Books

Housing Allocation and Homelessness (Third Edition) by Liz Davies and Jan Luba QC was published recently. For information on how to get the book, click here.

Housing Law Events

This Spring

6 March 2013
Asylum support: Current Issues and Judicial Review challenges
An ILPA seminar in London (speakers include Adrian Berry)
For the details, click here.

13 March 2013
Public Sector Housing Law Conference
Annual conference in London from Jordan Publishing (speakers include Liz Davies and Jan Luba QC)
For the details, click here.

20 March 2013
Impact of Welfare Benefit Reform
A HLPA Members Meeting in London
For the details, click here.

15 May 2013
Using the Equality Act
A HLPA Members Meeting in London
For the details, click here.

23 May 2013
Housing Disrepair
A LAG training event in London (speakers include Beatrice Prevatt)
For the details, click here.

Practical Tips for Possession: The View from the Housing Possession Duty Desk and Exceptional Funding under LASPO
23 May 2013
A Garden Court Evening Seminar (speakers include James Bowen + Connor Johnston)
For the details, click here.

 

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