Paul Lloyd, Victoria Smith and Elena-Lucia Stoian round up the latest housing law rulings from the courts and a recent report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
Taylor v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council  EWHC 412 (Admin)
High Court, 25 February 2020
The High Court has held that it had been correct for a closure order to be made against a tenant who was being investigated for a drugs offence.
A tenant (Mr Taylor) had been arrested after police found cannabis at his flat. His landlord, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, issued a closure notice under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which prohibited anybody other than council employees, council agents or the emergency services from entering the flat. The council then applied to a magistrates' court to make the closure order. Mr Taylor claimed that the cannabis was for his personal use and that he had been coerced into drug-dealing. The magistrates court, whilst acknowledging much of the evidence submitted was hearsay, concluded that drugs and drug-dealing items had been found at the flat and that known drug-dealers had visited the flat. A three-month closure order was made. Mr Taylor appealed.
The High Court, in dismissing the appeal, held that the magistrates' court had not erred when deciding that it was necessary and fair to make the closure order, and that, due to an ongoing criminal investigation, it was also right that Mr Taylor should be prohibited from accessing the flat.
A copy of the judgment is here.
Miah v London Borough of Newham  EWHC 327 (Admin)
High Court, 19 February 2020
The High Court has held that a local housing authority had breached its duty under the Housing Act 1996 when it accepted that it owed an applicant a housing duty but had not yet made suitable accommodation available to him.
The London Borough of Newham had told the applicant (Mr Miah) that he and his dependents, including a disabled child, had a priority housing need and that it owed him a duty under the Housing Act 1996. However, the family were unable to manage in their existing property and London Borough of Newham offered them alternative temporary accommodation, which it deemed was suitable for their needs. Mr Miah subsequently complained that the accommodation was unsuitable for his disabled child, and London Borough of Newham’s reviewing officer agreed. However, alternative accommodation was not offered.
Mr Miah accused the London Borough of Newham of breaching its housing duty, but Newham argued that there was a shortage of housing stock and that the accommodation had been suitable for the family at the time it was offered. Mr Miah sought a judicial review of the decision.
The High Court, in granting the application, held that because Newham had accepted that the temporary accommodation was unsuitable, it had therefore admitted that it had breached its housing duty. It held that the law did not allow for a “reasonable time” in which to secure suitable alternative accommodation in such circumstances. The reviewing officer’s decision letter did not state that the accommodation was suitable for the time being, so it could not be interpreted in that way.
This decision provides useful clarification to housing authorities as to when the duty to provide suitable accommodation to homeless applicants, who are already in accommodation provided by a local authority, takes effect.
A copy of the judgment is here.
Investigation into a complaint against Folkestone & Hythe District Council (reference number: 18 018 663)
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, 2 January 2020
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LG&SCO) has found that Folkestone and Hythe District Council did not fully support a homeless family.
A man (Mr X) and his family had been living in a single room in a house and had applied to Folkestone and Hythe District Council for housing. Whilst their application was being assessed, the family was asked to leave the house. The council subsequently provided Mr X with a personalised housing plan and explained that it was under a duty to help him secure suitable accommodation. It then provided Mr X with bed and breakfast accommodation, but he declined the offer, complaining that the accommodation was dirty and unsuitable. The council later ended its housing duty because it had offered Mr X, in its opinion, suitable accommodation at the bed and breakfast “which fully meets our legal duty”.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found that the council had taken too long to assist the family after Mr X first contacted the council and that it did not help them until they were actually homeless. It told the council to apologise to Mr X and pay him £100 to recognise the uncertainty and distress caused.
Home Group Limited v Sharpe
County Court, November 2019
A County Court has held that a housing association failed to support a mentally ill tenant who had fallen into rent arrears.
An assured tenant (Ms Sharpe) suffered from anxiety, depression and had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. A psychiatric report stated that her condition meant that she was unable to properly manage her finances. The Landlord (Home Group) brought a claim for possession after Ms Sharpe defaulted on her rent payments. However, Ms Sharpe claimed that she was a victim of discrimination arising from her disability. She claimed that she had been unable to pay the rent due to her benefit payments being stopped and that Home Group had not adequately supported her (previously an employee of Home Group had sent any correspondence regarding Ms Sharpe’s rent to a friend of hers, but this arrangement had ceased the previous year when the employee left the association). Home Group subsequently dropped its claim for possession, but still sought the £7,000 in unpaid rent.
The Court found that Home Group had not provided enough support to Ms Sharpe, thus breaching its own policy. Home Group agreed to pay Ms Sharpe £2,000, which was to be set-off against her outstanding rent arrears.
A copy of the judgment is not available.
R. (on the application of Parveen) v Redbridge LBC  EWCA Civ 194
Court of Appeal, 12 March 2020
The Court of Appeal has held that a Court had been correct in not making an order for costs following the withdrawal of a judicial review claim against a housing association.
A single mother (Ms Parveen) and her six daughters had been victims of domestic violence in Pakistan and had been granted leave to remain in the UK. Redbridge London Borough Council accepted that it had an initial duty to the family under the Housing Act 1996 and offered her accommodation in a mixed-sex family hostel. Ms Parveen said that the accommodation was unsuitable and that she required self-contained or single-sex accommodation. She launched judicial review proceedings. Redbridge accepted that it owed a full housing duty to Ms Parveen, but found, following a subsequent review, that the accommodation provided was suitable as temporary accommodation. After Ms Parveen provided a medical report stating that she needed self-contained accommodation, Redbridge offered to re-house her in self-contained accommodation. However, the council claimed that the offer had been made in line with its policy (i.e. that Mrs Parveen had reached the top of the list for such accommodation). Following the new offer, Ms Parveen consequently withdraw her judicial review claim. The Administrative Court held that each party should bear its own costs, as it was impossible to determine any connection between the judicial review claim and the offer and acceptance of the accommodation. Ms Parveen appealed.
The Court of Appeal, in dismissing the appeal, held that that Administrative Court had been right to find that it was not possible to determine a connection between the claim for judicial review and the offer of accommodation made before the claim was due to be heard. It had not been possible to say that Ms Parveen had been the successful party and therefore entitled to her costs.
A copy of the judgment is here.