On the agenda

Sam Madge-Wyld and Justin Bates consider the forthcoming legislative programme

Introduction

On 27 May 2015, the new Conservative Government, through the Queen’s speech, set out its legislative programme for the coming Parliament. Earlier on 21 May 2015, the Prime Minister gave a speech on immigration. We consider both speeches and what they mean for housing law.

The right to buy for tenants of housing associations

This proposal was not originally on the Conservatives radar when they went into the election. Indeed, Kris Hopkins, a former housing minister, had in 2013 discounted the idea as being fraught with risk and likely to prove too costly to the public purse.

However, as the polls refused to budge the Conservatives appeared to have decided that a sequel to a previous big policy hit from the 1980s, tapping back into the voters’ aspirations for home ownership, was what was needed to get them back into government with a majority. Whether it was the right to buy “wot won it” we will never know, but it is certainly a manifesto pledge that the Conservatives intend to honour.

Those unfamiliar with housing law may be forgiven for believing that housing association tenants were presently excluded from exercising the right to buy their own homes. That, of course, is not entirely correct. For a start, where a secure tenant had become the assured tenant of a registered provider or a registered social landlord, following the local authority transferring the land to the registered provider under a large scale voluntary transfer, the tenant’s right to buy is preserved: s.171A, Housing Act 1985.

Secondly, tenants of registered providers, or registered social landlords in Wales, who would, but for the fact they are not tenants of a local authority, meet the requirements of Part 5 of the Housing Act 1985, have the “right to acquire” their home if the provision of the dwelling was publicly funded and the property has remained in the social rented sector ever since: s.180(1), Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 and s.16(1), Housing Act 1996.

The substantive difference between the right to buy and right to acquire was the amount of the discount available. By way of example, under the right to acquire the discount in London was £16,000 (The Housing (Right to Acquire) (Discount) Order 2002/1091), whereas under the right to buy the discount is now just over £100,000 (Housing (Right to Buy) (Limit on Discount) (England) Order 2014/1378), and rises by inflation each year.

It is this difference that the forthcoming Housing Bill intends to change. The Housing Bill will entitle housing association tenants to the same amount of discount as those exercising the right to buy. This will not be funded by the housing associations, but by local authorities disposing of high-value vacant council houses. While the detail is not yet clear, one imagines that whenever a housing association sells a property it will be entitled to be paid the discount from central government, who will in turn off-set it against the revenue from the sale of high value council homes that it will recover from local authorities.

Presently, there is very little detail on what is meant either by “high-value” or “vacant”. One imagines, however, every council house in the country will be valued and that those of above a particular value, depending on the region they are located, will be required to be sold when it becomes vacant, presumably meaning whenever an authority recovers possession from a tenant. A fresh valuation of each individual council house would be very costly, so it may be that the current council tax bands are used. However, if this policy is not to be time limited, and proves very popular, then this will presumably require the sale of a very large number of council properties. In areas – such as London – where there are likely to be a number of high value properties this could reduce the amount of social housing considerably.

It is fair to say that the policy has been criticised from both sides of the political divide. Some question why the sale of state held assets should be used to subsidise the purchase of a house by a small class of people who are already adequately housed, while offering no help to others accommodated in poorer quality accommodation in the private rented sector. While others question why any local housing authority will now choose to build new council homes if they might be required to sell them, effectively, for nothing. Councils themselves, operating with historic debt from the housing revenue subsidy payment a couple of years ago, may now also be concerned at the loss of right to buy receipts from their most valuable properties. Many, especially in areas where demand for social housing is already very high, will also understandably bemoan the loss of their stock and the resulting rise in waiting lists. While the Government has promised to replace every social home sold with a newly built property, this same promise was made in 2011 when the right to buy discounts were extended and, to date, the Government has failed to honour its promise with the number of new homes failing to match the number that have been sold.

Some housing associations have also, not unsurprisingly, expressed disquiet at the proposals, some even threatening litigation under the Human Rights Act 1998. It is hard to see, however, what form any legal challenge to the increase of the discounts available would take. First, public authorities are not able to sue under the 1998 Act (Aston Cantlow v Wallbank [2003] UKHL 37; [2004] 1 AC 546) and in R (Weaver) v London & Quadrant Housing Trust [2009] EWCA Civ 587; [2010] 1 WLR 363, the Court of Appeal held that housing associations are likely to be public authorities themselves.

Even if the 1998 Act were to apply, any challenge would almost certainly fail. In James v UK (1984) 6 EHRR CD475, the ECtHR held that the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which enabled leaseholders to obtain the freehold ownership of their homes at less than the market value, was a legitimate aim of housing policy and was within the UK’s margin of appreciation to pursue. Here, where the aim is to allow people to own their own homes and where the compensation to the existing freeholder will equate to the market value, it is difficult to see how such a change in the law would be found to be a disproportionate interference with an association’s A1/P1 rights. Nor is a sale, if a housing association is receiving the full market value, likely to impact on a housing associations charitable status.

What about Wales?

This policy is likely to further fragment housing law throughout the UK. The Scottish Parliament has abolished the right to buy and the Welsh Government has announced plans to reduce the discount to £8,000 (see here).

 

Benefit cap

The Government, perhaps emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision in R (SG) v SSWP [2015] UKSC 16; [2015] 1 WLR 1449 that the benefit cap was lawful, also intends to reduce the benefit cap to £23,000 from the current cap of £26,000. It remains to be seen if the appellants in SG will appeal to Strasbourg – adopting the argument of the minority in the Supreme Court that the benefit cap failed to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration thereby infringing both Article 8 and Article 3.1 of the UN Convention on the rights of the child – but even if successful it is hard to see this Government, supported by the opposition, deciding to discontinue the benefit cap.

 

Immigration and housing

The Government did not announce in the Queen’s speech an intention to introduce any new legislation concerning the rights of people without leave to remain to access housing. However, in a separate speech, the Prime Minister confirmed that Chapter 1 of Part 3 of the Immigration Act 2014, which prohibits landlords from letting residential premises to persons without leave to remain in the United Kingdom, would be rolled out nationally after having so far only been introduced as a pilot in the West Midlands.

While unsurprising, one would have thought that it would have made sense to await the findings of the pilot before introducing the measures nationally. It is unclear, in the absence of any evidence, whether landlords have been able to get to grips with the new law or whether the support given to landlords has been sufficient to enable them to determine whether a person is in the UK lawfully or whether, as many predicted, landlords have simply refused to let to any tenants from ethnic minorities.

In the same speech, the Prime Minister also indicated that the Government would consult on further legislation that would provide for the automatic termination of a person’s tenancy agreement at the time that his leave to remain expired and to introduce a mandatory licensing regime to prevent “unscrupulous landlords” from “cramming houses full of illegal migrants”.

How the Government intends to amend the Housing Act 1985, Housing Act 1988 and the common law on landlord and tenant so as to bring to an end a tenancy at the same time that a person’s visa expires will be interesting. Will a landlord be required to take steps to evict someone within a period of time? Or will the (not so) tolerated trespasser return?

 

Conclusion

What does all this mean for housing? By 2020, a number of people who did not already own their home will do so. An even greater number of people won’t and will remain in accommodated in the private rented sector paying ever increasing rents. The demand for social housing will remain, but the amount available in England will be less than there is today. People living and working in the UK illegally will also, in all likelihood, be living in even worse accommodation than they presently are already and fewer people with large families unable to work will be living in London and other areas with high rents

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pat Reddin – Arrangements

Pat Reddin – Arrangements

 Pat’s funeral will take place at 3 p.m. on April 29, 2015, at

 St Marylebone Crematorium

East End Road, East Finchley, London N2 0RZ

All those wishing to do so are invited to attend. Donations instead of flowers to Pat’s chosen charity

 Crisis,

Crisis UK, 66 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT

Please wear casual and colourful clothing!

The family also invite all his friends – whether or not they attend the funeral – to a reception to celebrate his life at

Victoria Stakes, 1 Muswell Hill Road, London N10 3TH

from 4.30 onwards. As well as speeches by members of Pat’s family, friends will be welcome to contribute thoughts and memories of, and tributes to, Pat. There will be food, drink and music – no tears, for his was a joyful life and that is how he and the family would like it to be remembered.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Today, housing lost a good friend

Pat Reddin: 1947-2015

Andrew Arden QC records and reflects on the loss of the leading housing surveyor of our times.

This morning, April 13, a day before his 68th birthday, housing surveyor Pat Reddin died following a fall.

For those – few – housing practitioners not familiar with his work, Pat has been the ‘go to’ surveyor for both tenants and social landlords since the early 1970s. Indeed, the founders of housing law at that time were not only Law Centre and legal aid lawyers but others, without whom our work would have been impossible to deliver, who put flesh on the bones of cases involving housing conditions, by whom I mean pre-eminently Pat Reddin and the independent environmental health adviser, David Ormandy. It felt like there wasn’t a disrepair claim which didn’t feature one or other of them.

As those who follow this blog – and many others – will know, in 2011 Pat was diagnosed with a brain tumour which he courageously, vigorously and (for the most part!) with the best of humour fought throughout 2012, allowing him to return to work less than a year after surgery (and long before the doctors had predicted he would be able to): he had continued to recover, and to work, and was, as he always has been, much in demand as an expert witness, readily acceptable to social landlords and tenants alike as a joint expert and indeed in the courts.

It is too early to say what caused the fall or how far it was linked to the tumour, although his annual scans showed that the residue had not grown and that the operation was a considerable success. His sudden death has accordingly come as a complete shock to his family and friends.

Pat leaves behind his wife, Vincina Mellor, four daughters – Tania, Sarah, Jada and Francesca – and five grandchildren – Cassius, Ava, Tulah, Sheyo and Kosi – as well as a host of friends many of whom are active in housing and housing law and all of whom know how lucky we were to have had him in our lives and who will miss him dreadfully. Pat and the family were deeply grateful for the outpourings of concern and support during 2012, the most enormous morale boost through what Pat remarked in his client letter as he returned to work was a truly horrible year.

In my first post on his condition (July 6, 2012), I recorded that the tumour had been

‘a dreadful shock to him and to his family – and to those close to him who hadn’t realised he had a brain at all (a joke he does not tire of making!)’.

This was also a line I had used to his youngest daughter – Frankie, my god-daughter (as Pat was my daughter’s god-father) – across his bed in the ICU the morning after an 11½ hour operation in early January 2012, when there were very real doubts both about his chances of recovery and about how far he was (or would be) capable of comprehension. I was quite clear in my own mind, though, that I saw in his eyes a flicker of recognition – of humour – at the line and it is one of the enduring joys of my life that as soon as he could communicate again, he confirmed that I had read him right: he had not left us but briefly.

That last thought struck me again today, when I found a draft will written way back when – from its contents, probably 20 years or so ago – and which contained this line.

‘This is a time of celebration and adventure. I am going on another journey. I will return and I will always be available for you. Hold me in your thoughts for that is where I reside’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Access to justice in decline

 Andrew Arden QC and Clare Cullen consider the depressing decline in access to the courts.

The costs of issuing a claim are increasing yet services provided by the courts continue to diminish: many courts are now running an appointment-only service and it is common to see litigants, seeking to issue a claim or application, being turned away because they don’t have a pre-booked appointment. The “unassigned list” in Central London County Court is said to have been a fiasco (Nearly Legal) and is a further example of decline: what it means is that no judge is assigned to the case in the hope that one will become free, e.g. because another case settles. The result is that parties are often left waiting most of the day, a judge may still not become available and the case is adjourned – an enormous waste of money for all concerned and another illustration of putting the burden of state cuts on individuals. Moreover, because lawyers know about this sort of thing, and how to manage it, those most affected are usually the unrepresented, which in turn means – to use the phrase du jour – that the burden falls on those with the least broad shoulders.

Access to the courts is not only restricted by increasing fees and declining service: the reductions in legal aid are of course playing a major part. The Public Accounts Committee in its report, Implementing Reforms to Civil Legal Aid, Thirty Sixth Report of Session 2014-2015, has been critical of the Ministry of Justice’s legal aid reforms citing a failure properly to research the impact of the reforms including whether those who are entitled to legal aid are actually able to access it and the potential costs arising elsewhere in the public sector – presumably they have in mind delays, adjournments and cases (when they are heard) taking longer. The President of the Family Division has been particularly robust in his criticisms.
Over the past few months, the Government has responded to two consultations relating to these issues: one on increased court fees; the other on legal aid for committal proceedings following a breach of the new injunctions under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Increased court fees

In Enhanced court fees: the government response to Part 2 of the consultation of reform on court fees, January 2015, it was announced that the fees for issuing a claim valued above £10,000 will rise to 5% of the value of the claim, subject to a maximum fee of £10,000. Where the claim is for an unspecified sum, the issue fee will be 5% of the estimated value of the claim with the same upper limit.

The plans have, unsurprisingly, been criticised by many in the legal profession, including senior Judges: the concern is that fees will be prohibitive and may result in more litigants acting in person because the money which would have been spent on legal fees will be taken up paying them. The Government has rejected this criticism on the basis of rather dubious research which found that “fees are a secondary consideration in the decision to litigate”: the research, in 2013, was based on 18 telephone interviews and, in 2014, on responses from 31 civil court users only 12 of whom would have been affected by the proposed changes.

In housing, this increase is particularly concerning for disrepair and unlawful eviction claims, often involving an unspecified sum for general damages which are hard to quantify at the beginning of the claim. The judiciary’s understanding of the proposals, having had sight of the draft Statutory Instrument, is that the maximum fee of £10,000 will be payable where the sum claimed is not limited in the claim form. The Government suggests in response that, where the claim is for an unspecified sum, any fee payable will be based upon the estimated value of the claim.

This is extraordinary, utterly ignorant, wholly unprofessional: the amount paid will be known to the other side; accordingly, a litigant is torn between stating a high sum which will generate a high issue fee and stating a lower sum which will – inevitably – set the parameters not only for any negotiations but even for the court itself on judgment. (To pre-empt the response that there are estimates even under current arrangements, the brackets are so wide that they do not have this effect).

Independently of this, the fees represent a significant increase from present levels: the issue fee would be £1,250 for a claim valued at a maximum of £25,000 and £750 for a claim at a maximum of £15,000. (Currently, a fee of £610 applies to a claim valued between £15,000- £50,000 and £455 to a claim valued between £5,000-£15,000).

Whilst a claim for damages for unlawful eviction remain – at least for now – within the scope of legal aid, a claim for disrepair damages does not. These claimants will often be vulnerable and have limited means; it is that vulnerability which is part of what exposes them to the practices of bad landlords; coupled with the lack of legal aid, the increased fees are likely to limit access to the courts for many with a claim.

To add to the concern, the response to the consultation also announced the Government’s intention to increase the issue fee for possession claims to £355, the second rise in two years. In arrears cases, these fees will increase a debt which the tenant is already unable to pay, prolonging their time in debt, while, for social housing providers, it will be an additional cost that will prevent money being spent elsewhere.

Legal Aid – committal proceedings

The second consultation response, Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014: changes to remuneration for legal aid services, concerns legal aid for committal proceedings where there has been a breach of the new injunction introduced by s.1, Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (replacing ASBIs and ASBOs) and is equally worrying. Whilst the new injunctions will fall within the scope of civil legal aid, committal proceedings for breach will be under criminal legal aid and will therefore be paid at criminal rates which have been subject to such much public comment and criticism that there is no point in repeating it here.

Despite responses to the consultation pointing out that the vast majority of breach proceedings will be in the county court, the Government has rejected the proposal that proceedings should fall within civil legal aid on the basis that “the focus of breach proceedings will…..be on proving beyond reasonable doubt whether breach has occurred” and, therefore, that the proceedings are “simpler in terms of process than those for applications, variations, discharges or appeals”.

This is just nonsense. It is common – close to usual – for ASBI breach proceedings to be joined to an application to vary the ASBI or a claim for possession based on the same facts (which will be the case in the context of the new injunctions). Accordingly, as many civil legal aid practitioners will not have a criminal legal aid franchise, prima facie a criminal practitioner will be needed for part of the case while a civil practitioner for the remainder.

That would, of course, generate an absurd additional cost, so what is suggested is that civil legal aid practitioners will be able to apply for an individual case contract where necessary (itself giving rise to a public sector cost handling applications) although it does not appear that such contracts will be routinely awarded even where solicitors were involved in the original injunction proceedings: it is anticipated that such a contract will be awarded “where the provider has had substantial involvement in the original proceedings, where continuing to act for the individual represents value for money, and where it is in the interests of justice” but the example given is in respect of “clients with incapacity issues or learning difficulties, who might suffer from loss of continuity of representation” as if other defendants won’t.

Even if the contracts are granted routinely, the administrative burden of having to apply (which is likely to take some time) and the criminal rates available will deter many civil legal aid providers from seeking them, with the result either that those facing committal proceedings will lose all representation, alternatively continuity of representation while the case is taken up by a criminal practitioner who may have no familiarity at all with the housing law issues involved.

Even where such a contract is awarded, there is no guidance as to how lawyers are to separate out their time on the breach claim as opposed to – say – a variation claim and/or a possession claim. We can make an educated guess: though said to be simple, we suspect that in practice public funding will find that much more time is spent at the lower, criminal rate than civil.

Conclusion

The two consultations have followed a depressingly familiar pattern: responses largely ignored and the Government pressing ahead with proposals regardless of well-founded, professional objections to them. The impact that the increased issue fees will have on litigation remains to be seen but the rise risks making the courts prohibitive to even more people than now; the proposals for committal proceedings for breach of the new injunctions will likewise have an impact on access to justice (in circumstances incidentally where a person’s liberty is at stake) significantly reducing the solicitors and the skills available in relation to this work.

We despair!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Nations Apart

Andrew Arden QC and Clare Cullen consider a recent report from Crisis on the challenges faced by the single homeless

Introduction

Obtaining assistance as a single homeless applicant under Part VII, Housing Act 1996 is – to say the least – an uphill struggle. Ordinarily, and subject to meeting the other requirements, the full homeless duty will only be obtained if the single person is found to be vulnerable under s.189(1)(c) so as to confer priority need: in contrast with other categories of priority need (e.g. pregnancy or dependent children), this is not a straightforward finding of fact.

The prevalence of gatekeeping, preventing many single homeless applicants from obtaining support, was highlighted by the Crisis report Turned Away, The treatment of single homeless people by local authority homeless services in England, October 2014 (see post, No Surprises – Gatekeeping). A new report from Crisis, published in December 2014, Nations Apart? Experiences of Single Homeless People Across Great Britain, affords further insight into the challenges faced by single homeless people.

Priority need – Vulnerability

To establish priority need under s.189(1)(c), the applicant (or a person who might reasonably be expected to reside with the applicant) must be found to be vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason.

In considering whether an applicant is vulnerable, a local authority has to consider whether the applicant is less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person so that injury or detriment to him will result when a less vulnerable man would be able to cope without harmful effects (R v Camden LBC Ex p. Pereira (1998) 31 H.L.R. 317).

 

Local authorities have a wide discretion when applying the Pereira test: they are said to be best placed to make such a judgment in the context of their own homeless population and resources (Osmani v Camden LBC [2004] EWCA Civ 1706; [2005] H.L.R. 22 at [38]).

 

For policy reasons, drug addiction by itself is unlikely to amount to a “special reason” under s.189(1)(c) although it could be if it puts a recovering addict at risk of relapse on the streets (Crossley v Westminster CC [2006] EWCA Civ 140; [2006] HLR 26 at [30]).

Ordinary Homeless Person?

The new report highlights the difficulties faced by many single homeless people:

  • 48% had experienced drug dependency;
  • 46% had experienced alcohol dependency;
  • 49% have faced mental ill health at some point during their lives;
  • 41 % have been subject to a prison sentence at some point during their lives;
  • Nearly 50% became homeless aged 20 or younger. The earlier that a person became homeless, the more likely they were to have five or more incidents of homelessness.

It is unsurprising that such a high proportion suffer from alcohol, drug or mental health problems: these issues clearly make it more difficult to find and keep accommodation. The proportion in which these issues arise is, of course, much higher than for the general population.

That leads to the question, what is an “ordinary homeless person”. This issue arose in Johnson v Solihull MBC [2013] EWCA Civ 752; [2013] HLR 39, currently on appeal to the Supreme Court (UKSC 2014/0230) (Judgment is awaited. See Kanu v Southwark LBC (UKSC 2014/0233) on vulnerability where Judgment is also awaited).

Mr Johnson was a recovering heroin addict and persistent offender. It was accepted that he was at risk of reverting to drug use should he become homeless but the local authority did not consider that he had a priority need under s.189(1)(c). Applying the Pereira test, the review officer relied on a survey which had found that 92 % of homelessness services worked with people experiencing problems with drugs and therefore concluded that the risk of relapse did not render Mr Johnson vulnerable on the basis that relapse was not unusual amongst the homeless population. On appeal, it was argued that the reviewing officer had used the wrong comparator and should have considered an ordinary homeless person who did not have drug issues but this was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

“18. it is clear that the concept of an ordinary homeless person is necessarily an imprecise one. It falls to the Housing Authority to consider what features such a person would have. It is also clear from that paragraph that the question of who is an ordinary homeless person and what characteristics they have is a question to be assessed in the real world. It is sadly not surprising that many homeless persons have drug issues, or that many homelessness services are involved with dealing with those issues. Accordingly, in my judgement, it was open to the review officer to refer to this report as providing some assistance in determining the characteristics of the ordinary homeless person,”

 

Conclusion

Applying the Court of Appeal’s analysis, issues which are prevalent amongst the homeless community but not the general population, such as mental ill health, could also be seen as a characteristic of the “ordinary homeless person” diluting the test even further and imposing further limitations on single homeless applicants’ ability to obtain assistance. It is a vicious, downward spiral: the worse the general conditions of the homeless, then the worse the condition of an individual homeless person has to be in order to be vulnerable on the Pereira text. This is of particular concern when one considers the young age at which many first become homeless: it exacerbates the likelihood of writing them off for life.

Secction 189(1)(c) is intended to protect those who are vulnerable rather than simply determining priorities between the vulnerable homeless. The comparator of the “ordinary homeless person” was an invention by the Court of Appeal in Pereira which has severed the approach to vulnerability from s.189(1)(c) itself. Unless the Supreme Court agrees, however, the next Crisis report on the subject will inevitably contain statistics even worse than the current ones.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

History repeating?

Andrew Arden QC and Clare Cullen consider the decision in Sims v Dacorum

 

Introduction

The Supreme Court in Sims v Dacorum [2014] UKSC 63 ended (for now) the belief of many housing practitioners that the common law rule in Hammersmith v Monk [1992] 1 A.C. 478 would have to be revisited in light of the Human Rights Act 1998.

 

Rule in Monk

Monk affirmed the rule that, unless a tenancy agreement provides to the contrary, a unilateral notice to quit (NTQ) served by one of a number of joint tenants will bring the tenancy to an end regardless of the wishes of the other, who becomes an instant trespasser with no rights of occupation, losing all security and any ancillary rights – in the case of a secure tenant, very valuable ancillary rights, including RTB, security, succession and so on, all without the benefit of any judicial process.

 

Extent of Art.8

A previous post, Buckland v UK, considered the extent of Art.8.

 

That case concerned a possession order made against an occupier of a mobile home on a local authority site in Wales. At that time, the mobile home agreement did not fall within Mobile Homes Act 1983 so as to confer full security (this changed from July 10, 2013). The protection afforded to Ms Buckland was, therefore, limited to the court’s power to suspend a possession order for up to 12 months at a time under Caravan Sites Act 1968.

 

The district judge granted possession but suspended the order for 12 months. As the law stood at that time (Kay v Lambeth LBC [2006] UKHL 10; [2006] 2 A.C. 46), the judge was unable to consider whether a possession order would breach Ms Buckland’s Art.8 rights and therefore no proportionality exercise was carried out.

 

Ms Buckland accordingly applied to European Court of Human Rights alleging a breach of Art.8, a claim that was upheld notwithstanding the right to apply (and re-apply) to suspend the order for possession:

“The possibility of suspension for up to twelve months of the possession order is inadequate, by itself, to provide the necessary procedural guarantees under Article 8. Although further suspensions may be granted, suspension merely delays, and does not remove, the threat of eviction. The Court cannot accept that the fact that an individual may effectively be able to remain in her home in the long-term by making repeated applications to extend suspension of a possession order removes any incompatibility of the procedure with Article 8.” ([68])

 

This was thought to have significant implications:

“The decision that suspension is insufficient is very important indeed: incompatibility was only remedied by removing even the threat of eviction. In many cases, this will be a difference without a distinction, because refusal of a possession order still leaves the tenancy in existence, eg introductory tenancies, demoted tenancies, flexible tenancies, ie the tenancy continues until the court decides that it is to end. That is not so, however, in the case of, eg Part 7 tenancies or family intervention tenancies or where a secure or assured (or other) tenancy is brought to an end by a joint tenant’s notice to quit. If a court finds that it would be disproportionate to make an order, then – at any rate on the face of it the former tenant will still have no domestic right of occupation and his position will be akin to that of the tolerated trespasser.

 

“Given that a finding on proportionality is temporal in quality (ie it turns on specific facts at a given time, which facts may change) – this plainly leaves the occupier in such cases as much at risk of eviction as in Buckland – if not more so, because in Buckland there was a period for which the occupier was not under threat of eviction (the period of the suspension) while in the cases we are talking about, there is the constant risk of repeat proceedings, not even confined to the occupier’s circumstances but, eg if other demands on the local authority landlord are said to have changed so that the balance is affected.

 

“In short, we do not see that the law can achieve what we might call Buckland compliance other than by ensuring that the right of occupation continues (as it will in some cases) or otherwise that it is either revived or replaced.”

 

Sims

The Monk device is most commonly used when a joint tenant leaves a property citing domestic violence and seeks assistance from a local authority under Part 7, Housing Act 1996. As it is not reasonable to occupy accommodation if it is probable that it will lead to domestic violence (1996 Act, s.177), she (as it will usually be) must be found homeless and unintentionally so. Subject to eligibility and priority need, that person will, therefore, be owed a full homelessness duty.

 

In these circumstances, most local authorities will not offer permanent accommodation in discharge of the homelessness duty unless the joint tenancy has been brought to an end. It is common practice for local authorities to provide a pro forma NTQ so that this can be done.

 

The case of Sims was in this category. Mr Sims and his wife were joint secure tenants of Dacorum BC. Mrs Sims left and moved into a women’s refuge claiming that she had been a victim of domestic violence. Mrs Sims applied to Wycombe DC for accommodation and was told that she could not be granted a tenancy whilst she remained a joint tenant of a property elsewhere. Dacorum BC, therefore, suggested that she serve a notice to quit which she did and the tenancy ended.

 

It was contended by Mr Sims that the rule in Monk was incompatible with Art.8 and Article 1 of the First Protocol (A1P1). In the Court of Appeal, he accepted that the court was bound by Monk so he sought permission to appeal to the Supreme Court (this was refused by the Court of Appeal but granted by the Supreme Court).

 

In light of Buckland, it was argued that the ability to raise an Art.8 defence during possession proceedings brought against the former joint tenant was insufficient to comply with Art.8 as the court would not have the ability to resurrect the tenancy or grant a further tenancy: even if an Art.8 defence were successful, this would still leave the former joint tenant in limbo as a trespasser.

 

Reliance was also placed on the statutory protections provided under Family Law Act 1996 and the specific grounds for possession concerning domestic violence in respect of secure and assured tenancies (Ground 2A and 14A respectively).

 

Family Law Act 1996

The Family Law Act 1996, s.53 and Sch.7, allows spouses, partners and cohabitants to apply to court for the transfer of, amongst other things, a joint tenancy of property which has been the couple’s home to that person alone (including a secure or assured tenancy, Sch.7, para 1). (There is also the possibility of a transfer of the tenancy under s.24, Matrimonial Causes Act 1973). The right is not, however, available once the tenancy has come to an end.

 

The vast majority of joint tenants will be in a relationship which would fall within these provisions. The rule in Monk is at odds with the statutory purpose to protect a joint tenant’s interest in the event of a relationship breakdown and to allow a court to decide who should get the family home. This affords the degree of judicial oversight that is at the core of what Strasbourg decisions suggest is fundamental in eviction cases.

 

Ground 2A and 14A

The rule in Monk, as it operates where there has been domestic violence, also bypasses the statutory grounds for possession specifically designed to address domestic violence (Ground 2A for secure tenancies and Ground 14A for assured tenancies). These grounds likewise afford procedural safeguards for the remaining joint tenant: the ground has to be made out and the court must also consider whether it is reasonable for a possession order to be made. Those safeguards will not be in place where an NTQ has been served by the other joint tenant at the request of the local authority.

 

Decision of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. In relation to A1P1, it was held that:

 

“…..If the result is not as decided in Monk [1992] 1 AC 478 , either the tenant who served the notice is forced to remain a tenant against her will, or the landlord is landed with one tenant instead of two, which means less security—and, in a case such as the present, a family property occupied by a single person. Just as a joint tenant in Mr Sims’s position can claim that the outcome determined as correct in Monk is harsh, so could a joint tenant in Mrs Sims’s position or a landlord in Dacorum’s position contend that either of the alternative outcomes is harsh.” (at [17])

 

The Supreme Court did not address the power under the Family Law Act 1996 to transfer the joint tenancy to a sole tenancy or the statutory grounds for possession which would remedy the potential harm identified to a joint tenant in Mrs Sims’ position and the landlord.

 

In relation to Art.8, it was held that:

 

“[It is] suggested that this conclusion was inconsistent with the judgment of the Strasbourg court in Buckland v United Kingdom (2012) 56 EHRR 557, but I agree with…Dacorum that the judgment simply supports the proposition that, where the court is considering making an order for possession against a public sector residential tenant, she must have the opportunity of raising the argument that, in the light of article 8, no order for possession should be made. I do not therefore think that it assists Mr Sims in this case.” (at [24])

The decision in Sims is at odds with Buckland for the reasons identified in the post referred to above (Buckland v UK), in particular the reference to being able to stay “in the long term”.

 

Conclusion

Whilst the domestic remedies are now exhausted in Sims, there remains the option of application to Strasbourg. Whether or not this is taken up by Mr Sims or, as it inevitably will be, by someone else, the outcome does leave us wondering whether we are heading towards a repeat of the ping-pong that took place between the courts here and in Strasbourg, in Harrow LBC v Qazi, Kay v Lambeth LBC, Doherty v Birmingham CC, Pinnock v. Manchester CC and Hounslow LBC v Powell before – finally, reluctantly – the courts here recognised that Strasbourg really is serious about ensuring that evictions from a home do take place with an element of judicial scrutiny, something one would have thought was a basic right even if, in the sister case of CN (see Dwelling on the benefits of bad law), that too was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dwelling on the benefits of bad law

Andrew Arden QC comments on the recent Supreme Court decision in R (ZH & CN) v Newham LBC and Lewisham LBC

 

Introduction

Homeless persons advisers are rightly aghast at the Supreme Court decision in R (o/a ZH & CN) v. Newham LBC & Lewisham LBC [2014] UKSC 62, upholding the Court of Appeal in that case and the earlier cases of Mohamed v Manek and Kensington and Chelsea LBC (1995) 27 H.L.R. 439, CA, Desnousse v Newham London Borough Council [2006] EWCA Civ 547; [2006] QB 831; [2006] H.L.R. 38: I appeared for the appellants and I certainly am! The delay in commenting on it reflects the need for my blood temperature to reduce from boiling point to a mere simmer!

 

Contradictions

The decision is on any take a considerable stretch: in order to uphold the proposition that landlords (their agents and employees) can evict people housed under the temporary duties in Part 7, Housing Act 1996, without the court order otherwise required by s.3, Protection From Eviction Act 1977 (something that in practice authorities and other social landlords never actually do themselves – mostly because officers will not be willing to run the risk of committing a criminal offence, whether under s.1, 1977 Act or otherwise but also because of the risk of adverse publicity), the majority held that the purpose of an arrangement (the agreed test under s.3, 1977 Act) was not for the property to be used as a dwelling, even if it was intended to be used as a residence, although

(a) cases such as Uratemp Ventures Ltd. v. Collins [2001] UKHL 43; [2002] 1 AC 301; (2001) 33 H.L.R. 35 mandated that a broad approach be taken to the meaning of dwelling,

(b) it had been held in Mohamed v. Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2001] UKHL 57; [2002] 1 AC 547; [2002] H.L.R. 7, that a person in temporary accommodation resides in the area where it is located,

(c) Housing Acts 1980 and 1985 had specifically excluded such accommodation arrangements from secure status for a year from the decision (see 1985, Sch.1, para.4, as enacted), as had s.1, Housing Act 1988 from assured status, as s.209, Housing Act 1996, continues to do, which meant that Parliament must assumed that they would otherwise be “let as a separate dwelling” (the key definitional criterion under all these Acts) which has to include let as a dwelling,

(d) s.3A, 1977 Act specifies what tenancies and licences are excluded from s.3, including analogous accommodation such as holiday lettings, accommodation for immigrants and asylum seekers, displaced persons and hostels run by local authorities or other social landlords, but not including Part 7 accommodation, and

(e) use of the accommodation was nonetheless as a dwelling for the purposes of the housing benefit legislation (s.130, Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992).

 

If any one point emphasises to what extent the majority was prepared to go it is this last: it was essential to uphold qualification for housing benefit, absent which these schemes would not have been viable at all. Accordingly, it concluded that the accommodation was not for the purpose of use as a dwelling (under the 1977 Act), but was actually used as a dwelling (under the 1992 Act), even though, as Lady Hale (in the minority) pointed out:

“it is difficult to see a distinction between the two: [they] used these premises for the purpose for which they were licensed to occupy them” (at [156]).

“Many (indeed one suspects the great majority) of those provided with temporary accommodation under Part 7 of the 1996 Act are in receipt of housing benefit. The whole system of funding local authorities’ duties under the 1996 Act would fall apart if housing benefit were not available to those who cannot afford to pay for the (often expensive) temporary accommodation arranged for them. Section 130 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 provides that a person is entitled to housing benefit if he is ‘liable to make payments in respect of a dwelling…which he occupies as his home’. If the temporary and transient nature of his occupation is not sufficient to prevent the dwelling being his home for this purpose, I find it very difficult indeed to see how that same temporary and transient nature is sufficient to prevent the licence under which he is permitted to occupy the dwelling also being for the purpose of his occupying it as his home, that is, dwelling or residing or living rather than merely staying there” (at [162]).

 

 

Policy-led

The decision was hugely policy led. As well as Lady Hale, the Deputy President, the minority comprised Lord Neuberger, the President, who observed that the provisions:

“do not represent a substantial incursion into the property rights of the owners of premises, and they reflect a policy that people who have been lawfully living in premises should not be summarily evicted or locked out. Because of the nature of the rights accorded by these provisions and their aim of protecting people against the inconvenience and humiliation of being deprived of their homes summarily, one would expect the two sections to have a wide, rather than a narrow, meaning, a conclusion supported by the passages which I have referred to in the opinions in Uratemp” (at [135]).

 

He concluded,

“I accept that, when considering the proper interpretation of a statute, a court can, and where appropriate should, take into account policy considerations, and I sympathise with the view that policy considerations favour dismissing these appeals… However, judges have to be very careful before adopting an interpretation of a statute based on policy considerations, and should only to do so where those considerations point clearly in one direction. In this case, it seems to me to be particularly difficult to justify dismissing the appeal on policy grounds, given that (i) it involves departing from the natural meaning of the relevant statutory words, (ii) the policy argument is not overwhelming, (iii) there are policy considerations pointing the other way, and (iv) Parliament has apparently considered the policy – in section 3A” (at [153]).

 

Lady Hale rejected the authorities’ argument based on earlier case-law.

“Counsel… have put in considerable work in order to persuade us that the words must be read in the light of the construction given to similar (but not identical) wording in other provisions in the Rent Acts. For the reasons given by Lord Neuberger, which I need not repeat, I do not find any of that work persuasive, let alone convincing. I share his view that ‘dwelling’ is at least as wide as ‘residing’.” ([158]).

“The answer to the practical problems is a properly tailored legislative exception, as has already been provided for some other situations in section 3A of the 1977 Act” (at [165]).

 

Silver Linings

The irony is that the decision will probably cost authorities more – possibly much more – than they will save. As well as contending that the arrangements fell within s.3, 1977 Act, there was a subordinate argument, that – under Art.8 – any eviction from a home by a public authority must be by way of court order, relying not so much on the recent case-law (though that too) as on the origins of the Convention itself: would Strasbourg really uphold the notion that public authorities could simply come along with no judicial oversight and throw people into the street?

 

While rejecting this argument, the majority nonetheless concluded:

“…the decisions of this court in 2011, in Manchester City Council v Pinnock [2010] UKSC 45; [2011] 2 A.C. 104; [2011] H.L.R. 7 and Hounslow London Borough Council v Powell [2011] UKSC 8; [2011] 2 A.C. 186; [2011] H.L.R. 23 extended the powers of the county court when hearing applications by a local authority to recover possession of a property in order to comply with article 8 of ECHR. It appears to me that it is necessary for the same reason to interpret section 204 of the 1996 Act as empowering that court to assess the issue of proportionality of a proposed eviction following an adverse section 184 decision (if the issue is raised) and resolve any relevant dispute of fact in a section 204 appeal. As there is no other domestic provision involving the court in the repossession of the accommodation after an adverse decision, the section 204 appeal, which reviews the authority’s decision on eligibility for assistance, is the obvious place for the occupier of the temporary accommodation to raise the issue of the proportionality of the withdrawal of the accommodation. …” (at [71]).

 

This was not what the authorities (or Secretary of State) – let alone the appellants – has submitted, so there was no argument about it, nor citation of previous cases such as Ali v. Birmingham CC [2010] UKSC 8; [2010] 2 A.C. 39; [2010] H.L.R. 22 and Bubb v. Wandsworth LBC [2011] EWCA Civ 1285; [2012] H.L.R. 13 as to the limits of a s.204 appeal.

 

The implications of this are considerable. While the s.204 appeal is limited in its scope, if the occupier wants to challenge the proportionality of the eviction (even on the basis, e.g. that the conduct which led to an intentionality decision did not happen, or that the facts germane to a finding that s/he is not vulnerable, or that an offer was unreasonably refused), the court will have to conduct a fact-finding exercise which means longer hearings, adjournments for public funding and much greater cost.

 

Conclusion

The decision means that private landlords, their agents and employees, can peremptorily evict some of the most vulnerable members of society from their homes, even if only temporary homes (but temporary here may well have meant months); the practice has not hitherto been widespread, but is bound to become so; it is arrived at by an analysis of case-law, wholly undermined by the dissenting judgment of Lord Neuberger (who is, after all, the most authoritative spokesperson on landlord-tenant, having been one of its leading practitioners throughout his career); the absurdity of holding that the accommodation was not intended to be occupied as a dwelling for one purpose while actually being occupied (as intended) for another is the sort of distinction that brings the law into disrepute; and, its root in a free-standing approach to policy rather than the legislation itself is a dangerous precedent.

 

It is also, and perhaps above all, a mean decision: let’s save a few more pounds at who knows (or cares) what cost of indignity and suffering to what may be the most vulnerable members of society of all – those whom the authorities refuse to assist into the basic amenity of a place to live.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized