4th December 2019
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HOUSING LAW NEWS & POLICY ISSUES
 

Homelessness and children: Shelter report
On 3 December 2019 Shelter published a report – Generation Homeless – revealing that 135,000 children in Britain are homeless, living in temporary accommodation. This, says the charity, is the highest number for 12 years. The report also sheds light on the 5,683 homeless families with children currently living in emergency B&Bs and hostels. Families, the report states, “are often squashed into one room with little space to cook, play or eat their meals; are forced to share bathrooms with strangers; and the accommodation is often located miles away from schools, jobs and loved ones”.

The report also reveals:

  • In England, the areas with the highest proportion of homeless children are the London boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea, Haringey, Westminster and Newham where one in every twelve children are homeless.
  • Outside the capital, the places with the highest concentration of homeless children are Luton (one in every twenty-two children), Brighton & Hove (one in every thirty) and Manchester (one in every forty-seven)
  • There is an average of five homeless children for every school in the country.

For more details, click here.

Fraudster who claimed to be Grenfell Tower squatter convicted
On 27 November 2019 the Crown Prosecution Service reported that a fraudster who claimed to be sleeping rough on the stairwell of Grenfell Tower and professed to helping people escape from the burning building has been convicted of fraud. Alvin Thompson defrauded the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea out of a total of £88,860.27 by pretending to be a squatter inside the tower. Thompson was convicted of two counts of fraud following a trial at Isleworth Crown Court and subsequently sentenced to five and a half years imprisonment. For the CPS report, click here. For a BBC News report following sentencing, click here.

Tenants on benefits
On 2 December 2019 The Guardian reported that official data obtained by housing charity Shelter found that “Britain’s poorest private tenants are having to find an average of £113 a month to meet a shortfall between their housing benefit payments and their rent”. London renters on full benefits faced the widest rent gap in cash terms, needing to find an average of £211.94 per month, followed by £139.66 in the east of England and £138.23 in the south-east of England. For the report, click here.

Help to Buy (equity loan scheme) statistics: April 2013 to 30 June 2019 – England
On 28 November 2019 the MHCLG released statistics showing that since the launch of the Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme (1 April 2013 to 30 June 2019), 236,313 properties were bought with an equity loan. The release also stated:

  • The total value of these equity loans was £13.46 billion, with the value of the properties sold under the scheme totalling £62.04 billion.
  • Most of the home purchases in the scheme were made by first time buyers, accounting for 192,212 (81 per cent) of total purchases.
  • The mean purchase price of a property bought under the scheme was £262,522, with buyers using a mean equity loan of £56,951.
  • In London, the maximum equity loan was increased from 20 to 40 per cent from February 2016, and since then to 30 June 2019, there were 15,623 completions in London, of which 13,526 were made with an equity loan higher than 20 per cent.

For the statistical release, click here.

Help to Buy ISA Scheme Quarterly Statistics: December 2015 to 30 June 2019
On 28 November 2019 HM Treasury published a statistical release presenting official statistics on the government’s Help to Buy: ISA scheme. It showed that since the launch of the scheme:

  • 256,564 property completions have been supported by the scheme.
  • 339,747 bonuses have been paid through the scheme with an average bonus value of £943.
  • The highest number of property completions with the support of the scheme is in the North West and Yorkshire and The Humber, with the lowest number in the North East and Northern Ireland.
  • The mean value of a property purchased through the scheme is £173,573 compared to an average first-time buyer house price of £193,701 and a national average house price of £230,292.
  • The median age of a first-time buyer in the scheme is 28 compared to a national first-time buyer median age of 30.

For the release, click here.

Traveller caravan count: July 2019 – England
On 28 November 2019 the MHCLG published data from the count of traveller caravans in England which took place in July 2019. In July 2019:

  • The total number of traveller caravans in England was 23,125 (463 more than reported in July 2018).
  • 6,633 caravans were on authorised socially rented sites (an increase of 57 since the July 2018 count).
  • The number of caravans on authorised privately funded sites was 13,410 (417 more than recorded in July 2018).
  • The number of caravans on unauthorised developments on land owned by travellers was 2,047 (a decrease of 102 compared to July 2018).
  • The number of caravans on unauthorised encampments on land not owned by travellers was 1,035 (91 caravans more than July 2018).
  • Overall, 87 per cent of traveller caravans in England were on authorised land and that 13 per cent were on unauthorised land.

For the full data, click here.

Smoke alarm failures
On 30 November 2019 the Local Government Association released figures showing that almost 40 per cent of battery-powered smoke alarms failed to activate in residential fires in England in the past year. One-fifth (21 per cent) of mains-powered smoke alarms failed to operate in residential fires in 2018/19. This ‘failure rate’ is almost double (38 per cent) for battery-operated alarms and has stayed between 38 and 40 per cent since 2010/11. The LGA is urging that smoke alarms are tested regularly. For more information, click here.

Fire safety: Camden makes £130m claim against contractors
On 28 November 2019 Camden Council announced that it had submitted claims to the High Court to recover costs from the contractor PFIC (Partners for Improvement in Camden) and its principal subcontractors, who previously had responsibility for refurbishment and maintenance of the Chalcots Estate, under a private finance initiative agreement (PFI) with the council.

Specifically, the claim has been submitted against the consortium PFIC – currently in liquidation – and Rydon Construction Ltd., Rydon Maintenance Ltd., Faithful + Gould Ltd. and United Living South Limited.

The council is seeking to recover costs in relation to the evacuation in June 2017 of Chalcots residents, the employment of fire marshals and security staff during the evacuation and beyond, its repairs to make good inadequate internal fire stopping, inadequate fire doors and other serious defects inside the Chalcots towers and the removal of combustible aluminium composite material cladding from the blocks’ outer façade.

For more details, click here.

Disability and housing: 2019
On 2 December 2019 the Office for National Statistics published a series of bulletins exploring the outcomes for disabled people across a number of areas of life, including housing. The housing bulletin states that:

  • Disabled people in 2019 were less likely to own their own home, with just 42.4 per cent owning their own home, compared with 53.2 per cent of non-disabled people.
  • One-quarter (24.7 per cent) of disabled people in 2019 rented social housing, compared with just 8.2 per cent of non-disabled people.
  • Young disabled people in 2019 (ages 16 to 24 years) were less likely to live with their parents (67.6 per cent) than young non-disabled people (73.1 per cent), but this pattern reverses for ages 25 to 54 years.
  • Disabled people aged 16 to 64 years (in 2019) with severe or specific learning difficulties were the least likely to own their own home (of all main impairment types), with just 4.1 per cent owning their own home, compared with 42.4 per cent of disabled people overall in that age group.

For the housing bulletin, click here. For the other bulletins in the series, click here.

Loneliness and housing
On 2 December 2019 Community Led Homes published a report to mark the launch of its More than Housing campaign to support communities to make supportive, affordable, secure homes, together. The Home Aloners report explores the impact of a person’s living situation on their quality of life. It reveals the findings of a survey, carried out by Savanta ComRes, which found that one in four (24 per cent) British adults agree that they feel lonely because of their living situation and a further quarter (23 per cent) say it is not good for their mental health. Over two in five (44 per cent) British adults say they would like to feel more connected to people in their neighbourhood. Furthermore, findings suggest that living alone is perceived to be more challenging than other living situations. Over a third (36 per cent) of people who live on their own agree that they feel lonely due to their living situations. Nevertheless, the research also found that three out of four (77 per cent) people who live alone say they chose their current living situation. For the report, click here.

Dawn raid finds 17 men living in three-bedroom terrace – Brent
On 27 November 2019 Brent Council reported that enforcement officers had found 17 men sleeping on mattresses during a dawn raid. The tenants were crammed inside a three-bedroom, two-storey terrace house in Coles Green Road, Dollis Hill. The raid followed a tip-off about a suspected unlicensed house in multiple occupation. 

Brent says that the men were paying £50 a week to a head tenant in exchange for overcrowded, unsafe and illegal housing conditions. Mould covered the walls of one of the makeshift bedrooms on the ground floor. None of the smoke alarms in the property was in working order. The 17 renters were sharing one bathroom and kitchen between them, with up to five people sleeping on mattresses in one of the rooms. For more details, click here.

Rough sleeping: Lib Dem five-year plan
On 28 November 2019 the Liberal Democrats published a plan to end rough sleeping in five years. The party says that it will:

  • Scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824
  • Introduce a “somewhere safe to stay” duty on local authorities to provide immediate emergency accommodation
  • Abolish Section 21 “no fault” evictions
  • Increase Local Housing Allowance payments
  • Provide accommodation and support for survivors of domestic abuse
  • Extend the “move on” period for refugees from 28 days to 56.

For the plan, click here. For a response by Crisis, click here.

Commencement of Housing (Wales) Act 2014 section 75(3)
On 2 December 2019 section 75(3) of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 was brought into force by the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 (Commencement Order No. 10) Order 2019.

Section 75(3) is intended to provide additional safeguards to certain households that have become homeless and where the local authority have assessed them to be intentionally homeless. Local authorities will now have a duty to secure accommodation for households with pregnant women, children and certain young people who have become homeless intentionally. The Government has published supplemental guidance in respect of the new duty. For section 75(3), click here. For a statement by Julie James, Welsh Minister for Housing and Local Government, click here. For the supplemental guidance, click here and for the main guidance document, published in March 2016, click here.

HOUSING LAWS IN THE PIPELINE
 

Parliament was dissolved on 6 November 2019 ahead of the General Election on 12 December. On dissolution those bills still progressing through Parliament failed and, in order to proceed, must be reintroduced in the next Parliament.

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HOUSING LAW CONSULTATIONS
 

Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme: Towards a more sustainable service
The government is consulting on proposals to change the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme. The aim of these proposals is to ensure that the Scheme is sustainable into the future, in order to maintain this vital service for those who need it. The key proposals in this consultation are:

  • contracting for individual courts rather than larger geographical areas
  • allowing providers to claim for the scheme fee in addition to the follow up Legal Help fee
  • the introduction of a set attendance fee for all schemes in place of the existing nil session payment
  • the introduction of reasonable costs for travel as part of the competition element of the bid.

The consultation closes on 3 January 2020. For the consultation document, click here.

Housing Ombudsman’s consultations
The Housing Ombudsman has launched consultations on two documents aimed at providing a faster, more accessible and more transparent service. Both the Business Plan for 2020-21 and revised Housing Ombudsman Scheme propose changes to meet the challenges of unprecedented demand for the service and to respond to resident and landlord expectations.
The Housing Ombudsman says that the Business Plan 2020-21 sets out new approaches for handling casework based on a new, more efficient operating model. It includes plans to support earlier resolution of complaints within landlords’ complaint procedures as well as faster, high-quality decisions on complaints in its formal remit.

Proposed changes to the Housing Ombudsman Scheme would increase awareness of the service and support consistent complaint handling practice across landlords. A new power would help to ensure evidence is provided in a timely manner to accelerate complaint resolution, with the initial evidence requested not being received in an estimated 25 per cent of cases. Another new power to conduct further investigations beyond the initial complaint would help to identify any potential systemic failure.

The consultations are open until 20 December 2019. For the consultations, click here.

Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments
The Government is consulting on measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales and, in particular, on:

  • amending section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to permit the police to direct trespassers to suitable authorised sites located in neighbouring local authority areas
  • amending sections 61 and 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to increase the period of time in which trespassers directed from land would be unable to return from three months to twelve months
  • amending section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to lower the number of vehicles needing to be involved in an unauthorised encampment before police powers can be exercised from six to two or more vehicles
  • amending section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to enable the police to remove trespassers from land that forms part of the highway.

For the consultation, which closes on 4 March 2020, click here.

HOUSING LAW ARTICLES & PUBLICATIONS
 

The death of Sharron Maasz shows why domestic abuse services are vital Shaista Aziz The Guardian 26 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Why did Sharron Maasz, a much-loved outreach worker, end up dying homeless herself? Simon Hattenstone and Daniel Lavelle The Guardian 26 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Do they deliver on homelessness? Homeless Link 26 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Suitability when? Review and decision dates Giles Peaker Nearly Legal 26 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Can we force developers to sell homes at a discount? Jack Airey Policy Exchange 26 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Labour’s manifesto – real change for renters? Caitlin Wilkinson Generation Rent 27 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Conservative Party manifesto: what can renters expect? Caitlin Wilkinson Generation Rent 28 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Did you know disabled people are 1.5 times more likely to experience domestic abuse? Danielle Bishop NHF Blog 28 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Powers to control anti-social behaviour under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 Local Government Lawyer 29 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

The national housing emergency and the Liberal Democrats Robin White Shelter Blog 29 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

It’s time to fix Britain’s housing crisis at its roots: land Alastair Parvin Shelter Blog 29 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

The national housing emergency and the Green Party Democrats Robin White Shelter Blog 29 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Between structural defects and structural repairs Giles Peaker Nearly Legal 30 November 2019 – to read the article, click here

Après nous le déluge – rents and water resellers Giles Peaker Nearly Legal 1 December 2019 – to read the article, click here

It’s a do or die moment John Perry and Christopher Sinn CIH Blog 2 December 2019 – to read the article, click here

What do the election manifestos mean for local government funding? David Phillips Institute for Fiscal Studies 2 December 2019 – to read the article, click here

Housing: recent developments Sam Madge-Wyld and Jan Luba QC Legal Action December 2019 / January 2020 – to read the article (subscription required), click here

HOUSING LAW DIARY
 

13 December 2019                               
Opening of Parliament

20 December 2019                               
Closing date for submissions to two consultations by the Housing Ombudsman (see Housing Law Consultations)

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