Issue 119 - 5th January 2009

Monday 5 January 2009

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The Latest Housing Law News

Rent Officers: Today (5 January 2009) sees a change in the rules for rent officer assessments in housing benefit and local housing allowance cases. Instead of considering rents in a "locality", officers will be looking at "broad rental market areas". For a copy of the regulations introducing this change, click here. Additionally, regulations have been made transferring ministerial responsibility for the rent officer service from the Department for Work and Pensions to HMRC. This change takes effect on 1 April 2009. For a copy of the regulations introducing this change, click here. For the accompanying explanatory memorandum, click here.

Help with Mortgage Payments: also today (5 January) changes to the welfare benefits system take effect to enable help with mortgage interest payments to be made available earlier than previously. The changes reduce the waiting period from 39 weeks to 13 weeks and increase the capital limit to £200,000. For the press statement outlining the details, click here.

Rights of Audience for Housing Officers: although regulations have been made commencing another tranche of provisions in the Legal Services Act 2007 from 1 January 2009, the Government has still not announced an intention to commence section 191 (which confers rights of audience in anti-social behaviour cases on certain housing staff). For the latest commencement order, click here.

Tolerated Trespassers: just before Christmas, consultation closed on the issue of how the "replacement tenancy" provisions of the Housing & Regeneration Act 2008 should be applied to those tolerated trespassers living in properties which had been subject to stock transfers. The HLPA submitted a wide-ranging response (available to download from the HLPA website). Click here for routing to that site. For a copy of the consultation paper itself, click here.

Home-Ownership: on 15 December 2008 the Government announced that more than 130 developers had agreed to offer the HomeBuy Direct scheme which will help up to 18,000 first time buyers purchase a home at sites across England aided by an equity loan, part funded by the Government and the developer. The equity loan, which will be free of charge for five years, can be used as a deposit and can cover up to 30 per cent of the purchase price. For the full press statement, click here. The Council of Mortgage Lenders issued a pre-Christmas statement predicting that by the end of 2009 it expected 75,000 mortgage repossessions and 210,000 households in more than 3 months arrears. For a copy of that statement, click here. Following complaints of misleading information being given to council tenants to encourage them to exercise the right to buy, the Office of Fair Trading has secured undertakings from three former directors of companies engaged in the marketing of credit agreements to such tenants. For a copy of the OFT statement, click here.

Housing & the Elderly: the Government has very recently published its proposals for implementing the strategy referred to in 'Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society' published in February 2008. For a copy of the new and final national strategy, click here.

Homelessness: for an individual account of daily life as a homelessness officer in an inner-city local authority housing department see the article The One that Got Away (Guardian, 17 December 2008). To read the piece, click here.

The Latest Housing Case Law

19 December 2008
Muse v Brent LBC
[2008] EWCA Civ 1447
The council owed Mr Muse the main housing duty under Housing Act 1996 section 193(2) and provided her with accommodation under that duty. As her family grew, the accommodation became overcrowded and the council decided that it was unsuitable and that she should move to other suitable accommodation that it would provide. Ms Muse declined to move. The council decided that its duty had been discharged. The county court judge allowed an appeal but the Court of Appeal reversed that decision and upheld the council. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

19 December 2008
Barry v Southwark LBC
[2008] EWCA Civ 1440
On a homelessness application, the issue arose of whether the applicant was "eligible". He was a Dutch national and an EU citizen. He had worked in the relevant period of assessment for a fortnight as a steward at a tennis tournament while also receiving jobseeker's allowance. The council decided that that engagement did not count as "work" and that he was not eligible because he was not a "worker". That decision was upheld in the county court but reversed by the Court of Appeal. It decided that a wide and flexible interpretation of "worker" was required by EU law and, applying that approach, the applicant was in "work" during the two weeks. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

18 December 2008
R(Gargett) v Lambeth LBC
[2008] EWCA Civ 1450
Ms Gargett's rent was paid directly to her housing association landlords by Lambeth in the form of 100% housing benefit (HB). When the rent was increased, Lambeth was not informed and continued paying benefit at the old rate. Arrears accrued. When notice was given of the earlier increase, full benefit was paid to meet the new rent. Ms Gargett applied to Lambeth for a discretionary housing payment (DHP) to clear the arrears. The council decided that it had no discretion to pay a DHP when full HB was currently in payment. A High Court judge dismissed a claim for judicial review but the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal. The council had misconstrued the regulations and did have discretion to pay a DHP in the circumstances. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

18 December 2008
R(A) v Croydon LBC
R(M) v Lambeth LBC

[2008] EWCA 1445
The claimants were young asylum seekers. If they were adults, NASS would be responsible for accommodating them. If they were children in need, the local authorities would have to accommodate them under the Children Act 1989. In each case, social workers decided that the claimants were over 18. Their claims for judicial review were dismissed as were their appeals to the Court of Appeal. It decided that the arrangements for age-determination by social workers did not infringe human rights legislation and gave guidance on the proper approach to be taken in challenging such determinations. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

18 December 2008
Bromley LBC v Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government
[2008] EWHC 3145 (Admin)
A Romany gypsy applied to Bromley for planning permission to station two caravans on land in the Green Belt. The council refused permission and issued an enforcement notice. On appeal, a planning inspector granted temporary permission for two years on the basis that within that period the council would be developing other sites to which the applicant could move. The High Court rejected an application to quash that decision. The inspector had exercised statutory powers in accordance with the relevant circulars (11/95 and 01/06). For a copy of the judgment, click here.

17 December 2008
St Pancras & Humanist HA v Leonard
[2008] EWCA Civ 1442
The housing association issued a claim for possession of a garage occupied by one of its tenants. The tenant said that he had acquired title to the garage by 12 years adverse possession. The judge decided that he was estopped from raising that defence as he had represented at tenants' meetings that the garage was for communal use by all tenants. The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal. The conclusion had been available to the judge on the facts found. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

17 December 2008
Banks v Kingston Upon Thames RLBC
[2008] EWCA Civ 1443
On his application for homelessness assistance, the council decided that Mr Barry was not homeless. He sought a review but, before that was concluded, he was given notice to quit by his private landlord. The reviewing officer decided that the original decision could not stand because Mr Banks was now homeless but that no duty was owed because he did not have a priority need. The Court of Appeal set aside that decision. Although there had been no irregularity in the original decision when made, a broad reading of the regulations concerning reviews required a reviewing officer to give an applicant an opportunity to address him before making an adverse decision on wholly different grounds. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

16 December 2008
Ackerman v Lay
[2008] EWCA Civ 1428
This litigation concerned rights to freehold enfranchisement by a long leaseholder. The issue was whether the lease had expired or had been preserved by service of a notice given under section 42 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. The judge held that the lease had not been extended and dismissed the claim. The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal. For the judgment, click here.

Housing Law Consultations

(1) Closing This Week

Disability Discrimination. What are the appropriate means of improving protection for the disabled using the proposed Equality Bill 2009? One option canvassed is: extending, to the disability field, the "indirect discrimination" approach taken in sex and race legislation. For a copy of the consultation paper, click here. The closing date is 6 January 2009.

(2) Closing Later this Month

Legal Aid. The Legal Services Commission has invited views on its proposals for contracts to provide legal aid services from 2010. For a copy of the consultation paper, click here. The closing date is 23 January 2009.

Housing Law Events

9 January 2009
Recent Developments in Housing Law
A Legal Action Group Training event
For the details, click here.

21 January 2009
National Housing Management Conference
Chartered Institute of Housing
For the details, click here.

22 January 2009
Housing Policy Explained
A Northern Housing Consortium Conference
For the details, click here.

27 January 2009
Private renting
University of Oxford Housing Seminar
For details, click here.

4 February 2009
Housing Disrepair
A Legal Action Group Training event
For the details, click here.

5 February 2009
Tolerated trespassers
A Chartered Institute of Housing Training Event
For the details, click here.

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