Issue 159 - 30th November 2009

Monday 30 November 2009

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The Latest Housing Law News

Preventing Possession: the incredibly useful, but previously unpublished, Short Guide from Regional Resource Teams for Local Authorities on how to Prevent Homelessness due to Mortgage and Landlord Repossession has now been distributed to the Housing Benefit sections of all local housing authorities. It comes as an Appendix to Circular HB/CTB A21/2009. For a copy of the Circular, click here.

Preventing Homelessness: the Government is providing £170m to local housing authorities in England, through the Homelessness Grant, to work on homelessness prevention over the three years 2008-09 to 2010-11. The first statistical evaluation of this work was published on 26 November 2009. The figures indicate that in the first year (2008-09), 130,000 households in England were prevented from becoming homeless or helped to find alternative accommodation by their local council, on top of the action already taken to meet legal obligations under Housing Act 1996 Part 7. This help has included providing rent deposits for households to find homes in the private rented sector, mediation to support those at risk of relationship or family breakdown and sanctuary schemes to support those at risk of domestic violence. For the statistics, click here.

Legal Aid in Housing Cases: in the near future, in some areas of the country, access to legal aid for Housing cases will only be available through approved Community Legal Advice Centres (CLACs). The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has made it clear that from October 2010, only CLACs will have contracts for social welfare law (including Housing) in Derby, Gateshead, Hull, Leicester, Portsmouth, East Riding, Barking and Dagenham, West Sussex, Wakefield and Manchester (although the last five of those are still subject to final agreement with local councils). Housing advisers in Gloucestershire, Sunderland, Cardiff, Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan, where the LSC has previously published an intention to establish a CLAC, have been warned that contracts let to other suppliers in those areas may be for a shorter period than three years from October 2010. For further details, click here.

Protecting Mortgage borrowers: on 25 November 2009 the Treasury announced the launch of a consultation exercise on strengthening protection for mortgage borrowers. It its proposes to: (1) extend the scope of FSA regulation to include second-charge mortgages; (2) extend the scope of FSA regulation to include buy-to-let mortgages; and (3) protect borrowers when lenders sell on mortgage books to third parties. For a copy of the consultation paper, click here. Responses are sought by 15 February 2010. Meanwhile, the House of Commons Library has updated its helpful briefing on Mortgage Arrears and Repossessions. For a copy, click here.

Councils and housing: The latest figures provided by local authorities in England on their Housing Strategy Statistical Appendix (HSSA) and Business Plan Statistical Appendix (BPSA) for 2008/09 were released on 26 November 2009. The headline features are: (1) local authorities in England owned 1.8 million dwellings on 1 April 2009, following a general decline from 3.2 million on 1 April 1999; (2) there were 1.76 million households on local authority waiting lists on 1 April 2009, stabilising from 1.77 million on 1 April 2008. This follows a general increase from 1.04 million on 1 April 1999; (3) 61 per cent of local authorities in England participated in Choice-Based Lettings (CBL) on 1 April 2009, an increase from 47 per cent on 1 April 2008; (4) local authority landlords in England made 151,700 lettings during 2008/09, following a general decline from 378,900 in 1998-99; (5) the number of non-decent local authority dwellings across England was 396,900 on 1 April 2009, a fall from 491,700 on 1 April 2008; and (6) local authority landlords in England were granted approximately 1,100 anti-social behaviour injunctions in 2008/09. For the full statistical report, click here.

Rough sleeping: last year the government launched a new rough sleeping strategy called No One Left Out: communities ending rough sleeping. The strategy set the objective of ending rough sleeping in England by 2012. The strategy was backed by a 15-point action plan. A new report reflecting on the first year of the strategy was published on 27 November 2009. For a copy of the report No One Left Out: communities ending rough sleeping - An annual progress report: November 2008 - November 2009, click here.

The Latest Housing Case Law

26 November 2009
R(A) v Croydon LBC
R(M) v Lambeth LBC

[2009] UKSC 8
The claimants were young people who had applied to the two councils for accommodation under Children Act 1989 section 20. The question arose as to how decisions about the age of the applicants should be resolved, if in doubt. The Supreme Court decided that because section 105(1) of the 1989 Act defined a child as "a person under the age of 18" it raised a question of fact for the councils to resolve. If their assessments were challenged, a judicial review court would have to decide on the evidence whether the applicant was a child or not. There was no room for any discretion or policy issues to affect the decision. It was purely for the council and (on review) the court to determine the question on the facts. For a copy of the judgment, click here. Recent cases in which the judicial review courts have taken a different and more restrictive approach may need to be reconsidered e.g. R(AW) v Croydon LBC [2009] EWHC 3090 (Admin), 16 November 2009.

24 November 2009
Ali and others v Birmingham City Council
The Supreme Court has concluded the two-day hearing of this appeal. It concerns the issue of whether a factual dispute in a homelessness case (as to whether the claimants received letters containing offers of accommodation) can be dealt with under the provisions for review and appeal in Housing Act 1996 Part 7 in a way which meets the requirements of Article 6 of Human Rights Act 1998 Schedule 1. To succeed, the claimants must show that their right to the main housing duty in Part 7 is a "civil right". Judgment was reserved.

20 November 2009
Campbell v Glasgow Housing Association
[2009] ScotCS CSOH 154
Mr Campbell fell into rent arrears. The association claimed possession. Mr Campbell failed to attend the hearing and a decree of possession was made. He applied to set aside that order, offering a reasonable explanation for his absence. The order was set aside and the possession claim was adjourned on terms that he pay £10 per fortnight towards his arrears with a review hearing fixed for 29 September 2009. The payments were due on 18 August and then 1, 15 and 29 September 2009. On 29 September 2009 Mr Campbell failed to attend. Although he had made 3 payments, the association had not received the fourth. It sought and was granted a decree of possession. In fact, Mr Campbell had gone to the housing office to make the payment due that day. The rules did not enable a decree to be set aside a second time for non-attendance. The Court of Session held that the circumstances justified the making of an injunction suspending the decree. For a copy of the judgment, click here.

29 October 2009
R(Mortell) v Secretary of State
[2009] EWCA Civ 1274
The claimant and a large number of other residents were to be displaced by a compulsory purchase order made in order to replace an area of low-demand housing. The residents would be entitled to rehousing, compensation and home-loss payments. They complained that the Secretary of State's decision to approve the order was unlawful. A claim for judicial review was dismissed. The first ground of appeal was that there had been a failure by the Secretary of State to consider the individual human rights of the residents under Article 8 and Protocol 1 Article 1 of Human Rights Act 1998 Schedule 1. It was common ground that the decision would need to have been proportionate (i.e. to have taken account of the personal circumstances of the occupiers and balanced them against the case for the making of the order). The Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal on that ground (and dismissed other grounds of appeal). A planning inspector had fully considered the personal circumstances of the objectors and the Secretary of State had adopted his findings.

21 October 2009
R(Ariemuguvbe) v Islington LBC
[2009] EWCA Civ 1218
The council had a choice-based letting scheme that took account of points. Its scheme provided that "the needs of all individuals in the applicant's household will be taken into account when points are awarded". The claimant lived with her husband but also with their five children (aged 31, 29, 27, 22 and 24) and three young grandchildren. The council declined to take the five adult children into account when assessing the claimant's points as they were all independent adults and were each subject to leave to remain in this country conditional upon not having recourse to public funds. The claimant complained that the scheme did not define 'household' and, on an ordinary meaning of the word, the whole family lived as one household. A claim for judicial review was dismissed. The Court of Appeal rejected an appeal. The allocation scheme was not an enactment and had to be read in a practical, common sense and not legalistic way. It had to be given an interpretation that "allows a sensible degree of flexibility when it comes to dealing with individual cases".

Housing Law Books and Articles

Housing Law Handbook - 10% off
Gain a practical understanding of housing law with the Housing Law Handbook. It provides a first port of call for lawyers and advisors dealing with housing, professionals in the social housing sector, and those involved in housing management. The book covers possession proceedings, homelessness rights, the allocation of social housing, and other routes into housing. To claim your 10% discount, order online and quote promotion code GCTHLH when prompted.

Housing Allocation and Homelessness - new edition
The new edition of Housing Allocation and Homelessness: Law and Practice by Jan Luba QC and Liz Davies can now be ordered, Price: £50.00. For full details, click here.

Housing Law Consultations

Closing on 4 February 2010
The Home Office consultation on support arrangements for asylum seekers. For a copy of the consultation paper, click here.

Closing on 5 February 2010
The TSA consultation on all the new National Standards for Social Housing Management. For copies of the consultation paper, click here.

Closing on 15 February 2010
The Treasury consultation on further measures to protect mortgage borrowers. For the consultation paper, click here.

Housing Law Events

[This week] 30 November 2009
Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour
A NHC Conference in Harrogate
For the details, click here.

[This week] 2 December 2009
Residential Landlord & Tenant
A Professional Conferences event
For the details, click here.

[This week] 4 December 2009
Social Housing Management Conference 2009
A Lime Legal event (Manchester).
For the details, click here.

9 December 2009
Social Housing Management Conference 2009
A Lime Legal event (London).
For the details, click here.

15 December 2009
The Housing Law Conference
An HLPA event
For the details, click here.

16 December 2009
Housing Disrepair
A LAG training day.
For the details, click here.

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