Housing Law Bulletin - Issue 315 - 8 July 2013

Monday 8 July 2013

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Housing Law News

Housing cases and legal aid: the most recent legal aid statistics show that since 2007/8 the number of providers of civil legal aid services has fallen by 30%. Over the same period, the volume of housing cases dealt with on legal aid fell by 16%. By 2012/13 there were only 509 suppliers authorised to do housing legal aid work and only 10,130 legal aid certificate were issued for housing cases. During the same year, the county courts processed well over 100,000 claims for possession of people's homes. For the legal aid statistics for 2012/13, click here.

Housing cases and judicial review: the Civil Procedure Rule Committee is consulting on whether new "cost budgeting" rules should apply to judicial review cases. Responses due by 20 July 2013. For the consultation paper, click here.

Housing benefit size criteria in social housing: it is being widely reported that many social housing tenants who have seen their housing benefit reduced since 1 April 2013 are either leaving their homes or defaulting on their rent. A parliamentary debate on the subject took place on 2 July 2013 in the House of Lords. For the debate, click here. A report from the National Housing Federation indicates that 18 Merseyside housing associations are predicting a loss of £22m rental income as a result of the bedroom tax. For that report, click here. Renfrewshire Council reports that the bedroom tax has seen 800 of its tenants go into rent arrears. For details, click here. For details of Dundee Council's experience - that arrears due to the bedroom tax are rising at £21,000 per week - click here.

Direct payment of housing benefit to tenants: the UK Government remains determined to move to a system of paying benefits for housing costs direct to social sector tenants, monthly in arrears. On 27 June 2013 the DWP Minister said that once a tenant's arrears reached the equivalent of two month's rent, they will switch temporarily to managed payments direct to their social landlord. For his speech, click here. For further details of that change, see the July 2013 issue of Housing Benefit Direct. For a copy, click here.

Private rented sector (1): on 3 July 2013 the Home Office launched a consultation exercise seeking views on a proposed new requirement for private landlords to conduct immigration checks on tenants, with penalties for those who provide rented accommodation to illegal non-EEA migrants in breach of new requirements to be included in the Immigration Bill. For the consultation paper, click here. Consultation closes on 21 August 2013. For the ministerial announcement on the issue, click here.

Private rented sector (2): on 2 July 2013 John Healey MP introduced a Letting Agents (Competition, Choice and Standards) Bill in the House of Commons. For his speech in support of the Bill, click here.

Private rented sector (3): on 3 July 2013 Graham Jones MP initiated a parliamentary debate on whether it should be necessary for private landlords to be licensed. For the debate, click here.

Private rented sector (4): the organisation London Councils has produced a briefing on the impact of Housing Benefit (Local Housing Allowance) reform on the private rented sector in London. For a copy of Tracking Welfare Reform (June 2013), click here.

Private rented sector (5): a new study of private landlords in the UK, made using the wealth and assets survey, has been published. For a copy of the paper, Understanding landlords, click here.

Reforming Housing Law: on 2 July 2013 the Law Commission opened an invitation for suggestions of topics it should examine for future law reform. Suggestions should be made by 31 October 2013. For more details, click here.

Protection for Homeowners: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has produced a new report - Building an effective safety net for home owners and the housing market. For a copy, click here.

Gypsies & Travellers: on 1 July 213 the Planning Minister made a new parliamentary statement on tighter central government supervision of the 'protection' of the Green Belt in relation to planning applications to allow caravans and mobile homes to be used for residential occupation. For the statement, click here.

Updates on Housing Law: for daily housing law news and updates follow the Editor of this Bulletin (Jan Luba QC) on Twitter @JanLubaQC

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.

Balakin v Russia [2013] ECHR 639
4 July 2013

The applicants owned a two-room apartment in which they lived with their daughter and son. The daughter was disabled by severe diabetes. In 1988 they joined the local council's waiting list for social housing, seeking a three bedroomed property. In 1999 they were moved to the 'first priority list'. National law provided for an enforceable right to immediate rehousing - but only to those on an 'extraordinary cases' list. In 2005 the applicants brought a claim in the domestic courts to obtain an order that they should be made an offer of accommodation. It was dismissed on the grounds that the waiting lists were not time-limited and so the courts had no jurisdiction to enforce them. The European Court of Human Rights held that the applicants had not been deprived of access to the courts to enforce their human rights (contrary to Article 13) because the provision of social housing to persons in need of improved living conditions clearly belonged to the realm of socio-economic rights, which is not covered by the Convention. The Court also rejected a complaint that there had been a breach of the right to a fair determination of a dispute about those rights (Article 6). It was questionable to what extent the applicant's "right to better housing", as it existed at the material time, gave rise to an "actionable domestic claim". For the judgment, click here.

Dawkins v Central Bedfordshire Council [2013] EWHC (QB) noted on LAWTEL
4 July 2013

Mr Dawkins appealed to the county court against a decision that he had become homeless intentionally. The council applied to strike out the appeal on the grounds that it had been made out of time. The appeal was in time if calculated from the date of receipt of the reviewing officer's decision by post but was out of time if, as the council suggested, it has been hand-delivered several days earlier. The judge accepted the council's evidence on service and struck out the appeal. The High Court allowed an appeal. Factual material about the time of service had been wrong and justice required the application to strike out be reconsidered on the correct facts.

Malik v Persons Unknown [2013] EWCA Civ 798
3 July 2013

In March 2010 the defendants went onto Mr Malik's vacant land and established their homes there. His claim for possession was issued in July 2010. The occupiers defended the claim on the basis that their eviction would not be proportionate and would infringe Article 8. The judge held that Article 8 could be raised, even in a claim brought by a private individual, but made a forthwith order for possession. The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal. Even if Article 8 did apply (which was not in issue on the appeal), and even if McPhail v Persons Unknown no longer bound the courts to make a forthwith possession order against a squatter, such an order had been proportionate on the facts of this case. For the judgment, click here.

Southampton City Council v Ashok Miah
3 July 2013

The defendant was the private landlord of a seven bedroom property above a disused restaurant. A council inspection found the flat divided across three floors and occupied by at least seven people. There was no working fire alarm, escape routes were blocked, there was poor structural fire separation and communal areas were dirty and in a poor condition. Windows were broken, there was a severe damp problem and mouse droppings were found on a dirty and greasy cooker. A prohibition order was made. The defendant pleaded guilty to four breaches of the HMO management regulations and of failure to obtain a mandatory HMO property licence. Southampton Magistrates' Court imposed a fine of £36,000, a £15 victim surcharge and £3,815 in costs. For details of the prosecution, click here. Earlier this year the same defendant was successfully prosecuted in respect of the same property resulting in a fine of £35,000 and £1400 costs. For that details of that prosecution, click here.

Jastrzembski v Westminster City Council [2013] UKUT 0284 (LC)
20 June 2013

The council served a demand for service charges of £9,199 in respect of a tenant's share of the cost of major works. The tenant complained that the consultation requirements had not been complied-with because a 2009 consultation notice had not been served on him. The leasehold valuation tribunal (LVT) did not resolve the issue of service but decided, on its own initiative, that the 2009 notice had been invalid for other reasons. It held that an earlier 2007 notice had been valid and that the charge was payable. The Upper Tribunal held that (i) there was a procedural irregularity by reason of the LVT raising a point about the validity of the 2009 notice which had not been raised by either party;(ii) the 2009 notice was not, in any event, invalid; (iii) the 2007 notice was not a valid notice for the purpose of the 2009 works; but that (iv) there was no relevant prejudice to the appellant so that the LVT did not err in determining that that 2009 notice be dispensed with pursuant to the provisions of section 20ZA of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985.For the judgment, click here.

Bor v Hungary [2013] ECHR 557
18 June 2013

The applicant lived across the road from a railway station. In 1988 the railway company switched from steam to diesel trains and there was a significant increase in noise levels. In 1991 the applicant began a court claim for orders that the noise should be controlled and compensation awarded. In 2008 that claim finally succeeded and the company then complied with an order to pay for soundproofing of the applicant's doors and windows and it reduced the noise generation from the station. The applicant complained that his human right to respect for his home had been breached by the noise. The government said that it had provided access to a remedy through the court system. The European Court of Human Rights said that there had been a violation of Article 8. It held that the existence of a sanction system is not enough if it is not applied in a timely and effective manner. Here the domestic courts had failed for some 16 years to determine any enforceable measures in order to ensure that the applicant would not suffer. He was awarded 9,500 euros. For the judgment, click here.

Vaughan v South Oxfordshire DC [2013] EWHC 1885 (Admin)
6 June 2013

The council decided that a property owned by Mr Vaughan was empty and fixed the rate of council tax payable accordingly. He claimed he lived in it and that he was entitled to a single person's discount. The valuation tribunal rejected his case on the facts and upheld the council's decision. A review of that ruling was rejected. The High Court dismissed an appeal. The court only had jurisdiction to interfere if the tribunal had erred in law. It had not. Mr Vaughan was ordered to pay costs of £6250.

Chelfat v Kensington & Chelsea RLBC [2013] EWCA Civ 793
3 June 2013

The council accepted that it owed Mrs Chelfat the main homelessness duty under Housing Act 1996 section 193. It placed her in private sector leased accommodation in Enfield. When the landlord sought possession, it offered her further accommodation in Ilford. Mrs Chelfat rejected the offer on the grounds that it was not suitable. The council decided that the accommodation had been suitable and that her rejection had brought the duty to an end. An appeal to the county court was dismissed. The Court of Appeal refused an application for permission to bring a second appeal. The reviewing officer had considered all the evidence and material put forward by Mrs Chelfat and had reached a conclusion that was not wrong in law.

Avon Estates (London) Ltd v Sinclair Gardens Investments (Kensington) Ltd [2013] UKUT 0264 (LC)
30 May 2013

A house had been divided into three flats. Avon held the lease of one flat from Sinclair (the freeholder). The lease provided that the freeholder would insure the house and that the premium would be recoverable by service charges. A Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) held that the premium claimed was payable, except in relation to a 12% claims handling fee. Avon appealed, contending that the premium was unreasonable because it was above market rates and had been provided through a company linked to Sinclair. Sinclair put in a cross-appeal seeking to restore the 12% reduction. The Upper Tribunal dismissed both appeals. The first appeal raised an issue of fact which had been a matter for the LVT to decide. The cross-appeal had not secured the required permission to appeal. The judgment contains a useful summary of the law on the obligations (or otherwise) of lessors when seeking to obtain insurance for buildings. For the judgment, click here.

Housing Law Articles

Recent developments in housing law
N. Madge and J. Luba
[2013] June Legal Action 31
For back issues of articles in this series, click here.

The time to act on the Bedroom Tax is now
L. Davies
[2013] Garden Court Chambers Blog, 1 July
To read the article, click here.

How can councils improve the way they deal with homeless teenagers?
J. McCluskey
[2013] Guardian Housing Network, 2 July
To read the article, click here.

Migrant myths (tenancies and immigration status)
M. LeVoy
[2013] Inside Housing 1 July
To read the article, click here.

Social housing cases round up
S. Pearson
[2013] Local Government Lawyer 4 July
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 Month

17 July 2013
Allocations: The New World
A HLPA members meeting in London
For the details, click here.

24 July 2013
Welfare reforms: navigating the changes in the welfare system
A one-day conference in London for front-line staff and managers
For the details, click here.

 

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