20 July 2018, by Connor Johnston
Oduneye v London Borough of Brent  EWCA Civ 1595, 5 July 2018
The Appellant, Ms Oduneye, was the secure tenant of a flat in North West London. From December 2013 onward, her housing benefit award was terminated after she was asked to provide information about her financial circumstances but failed to do so. Over the course of the next year, Ms Oduneye sought to make a new claim but, despite a number of opportunities, failed to provide all of the financial information requested from her, with the result that her claim was closed.
By March 2015, having been without housing benefit for around 15 months, Ms Oduneye had accrued significant rent arrears in excess of £11,000. Her landlord brought possession proceedings and was granted a possession order which was executed in April 2015.
Following her eviction, Ms Oduneye continued to liaise with the housing benefit department about her earlier entitlement, in consequence of which a total of around £9,000 was paid to her former landlord in backdated payments.
Ms Oduneye proceeded to lodge a complaint with the council, on the footing that if the backdated payments had been made earlier, she might never have been evicted. However, the outcome of the complaint did not go in Ms Oduneye’s favour: the conclusion was reached that she had not been entitled to the backdated payments and that they had been made in error. However, as the error lay with the council, no steps would be taken to recover them.
In the meantime, Ms Oduneye applied to the council as homeless. In due course the council found that she had made herself homeless intentionally. This decision was upheld on review. The reviewing officer found that Ms Oduneye had deliberately failed to meet her rental liability for the property both because she failed to provide the documents needed to process her claim and because, when housing benefit had been in payment, she had failed to meet the shortfall between her housing benefit award and the rent. She lost her accommodation as a direct result of these failures. An appeal against that latter decision was dismissed.
The Court of Appeal dismissed a second appeal. The arrears had arisen to over £11,000 because Ms Oduneye had failed to provide the documents needed to process her housing benefit claim. Had the back dated payments been made earlier the landlord would still have proceeded with the possession claim and while it was ‘not possible to say what a court would have done had the back-payments of housing benefit been made when it came to consider the possession proceedings’ the point did not assist Ms Oduneye since the backdated payments should never have been made. The reviewing officer had acted fairly, made due inquiries and her decision could not be characterised as irrational.
The judgment is not yet on BAILII but is available on Lawtel (£): Oduneye v London Borough of Brent  EWCA Civ 1595