1st February 2017
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Rough sleeping – England
On 25 January the DCLG published the statistics for rough sleeping in England for autumn 2016. They show that in autumn 2016 the total number of rough sleepers counted and estimated was 4,134. This is up 565 (16%) from the autumn 2015 total of 3,569. The number of rough sleepers has increased by 3% in London and 21% in the rest of England since autumn 2015. London had 964 rough sleepers in autumn 2016, which is 23% of the England total. This is down from 26% of the England total in autumn 2015. For the full statistics, click here For the response of the Local Government Association, click here For comments by Crisis, click here

Rough sleeping – England: briefing paper
On 27 January 2017 House of Commons Library published a briefing paper which provides background information on the problem of rough sleeping and outlines Government policy on this issue. To read the briefing, click here

Homelessness Reduction Bill
On 27 January 2017 the Homelessness Reduction Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons. The Bill will now go to the House of Lords for consideration. For more details about the Bill, see Housing Laws in the Pipeline.

Local authority homelessness statistics – England
On 26 January 2017 the House of Commons Library produced a tool which allows the user to view collected homelessness statistics for individual local authorities in England. To access the tool, click here

Supporting housing tenants
On 24 January 2017 Caroline Nokes, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, gave a speech to the National Housing Federation’s Welfare Reform Conference in which she reiterated her commitment to working with the social housing sector to best support claimants of Universal Credit. To read her speech, click here

Forces Help to Buy scheme
On 26 January 2017 the Ministry of Defence published statistics for the Forces Help to Buy (FHTB) scheme for December 2016. In that month 300 First Stage applications were received; 222 Second Stage applications were received; and 323 payments were made to Service personnel. Since the Scheme began: 19,585 First Stage FHTB applications have been received; 11,867 of these applications have proceeded to the Second Stage; payment has been made to around 9,700 applicants, totalling just under £147 million, an average of approximately £15,100 per claim. For the full statistics, click here

Local authority house building
24 Housing reports that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, while speaking at a Local Government Association event, has suggested that his department’s forthcoming White Paper on housing will address building of homes by local authorities. For the news item, click here

Data protection, privacy and social housing
On 30 January 2017 HouseMark and Anthony Collins Solicitors jointly published a comprehensive guide to data protection and privacy, designed specifically for the social housing sector. The guide – Transparency and Trust: A guide to data protection and privacy for social landlords and tenants – explains the roles, responsibilities and legal and regulatory obligations aligned to collecting, using and storing personal data in the social housing sector. To access the guide, click here For the related press release, click here

Affordable housing – Cities Outlook 2107
On 30 January 2017 CentreforCities published Cities Outlook 2017, its  annual ‘healthcheck’ of 63 UK cities. This year the index focuses on exports and Brexit but does contain a section on housing. It notes that the UK’s dwelling stock increased by 0.7 per cent between 2014 and 2015, consistent with previous years (0.6 per cent between 2013 and 2014). In 26 cities housing stock growth exceeded the UK average, with Peterborough experiencing the highest growth (1.7 per cent), followed by Telford (1.5 per cent) and Cambridge (1.4 per cent). About 30,000 net new dwellings were built in London between 2014 and 2015. This represented a housing stock growth of 0.8 per cent, ranking London 21st nationally. To access the index (housing is dealt with in Section 3), click here

Help to Buy – Wales: Shared Equity Loan scheme
On 25 January 2017 the Welsh Government published data concerning the number of homes purchased and the value of the loans received under the Help to Buy – Wales: Shared Equity Loan scheme. Between 1 October to 31 December 2016, 555 property purchases were completed using a Welsh Government shared equity loan. This brings the total number of purchases under Help to Buy Wales since its introduction on 2 January 2014 to 4,619. At 31 December 2016 there were 528 applications for loans still outstanding. Between 1 October to 31 December 2016, the total value of these equity loans was £20.4 million, with the value of the properties purchased totalling £103 million. The mean purchase price of a property bought using the scheme during the quarter was £185,597, with a mean equity loan value of £36,688. The majority of homes purchased through the scheme between 1 October and 31 December 2016 were to first time buyers, accounting for 78 per cent of all completions. For the full statistics, click here

Homes and Communities Agency
On 30 January 2017 the Council of Mortgage Lenders announced its support for the principle that the regulation of social housing should be completely independent from the Homes and Communities Agency, as the government provider of funding and land for social and affordable housing in England. The CML confirmed that it had responded to the consultation (now closed) in respect of the HCA by expressing support for the use of a legislative reform order as a means of establishing an independent social housing regulator. For the CML’s statement, click here

Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes
On 24 January 2017 Local Government Lawyer reported that the Law Society has said it has “considerable concerns” about the Legal Aid Agency's proposed introduction of price-competitive tendering for housing possession court duty schemes and fears a “race to the bottom” with competitive tendering for housing duty contracts. For more details, click here For the consultation itself, see Housing Law Consultations.

Asylum accommodation
On 31 January 2017 the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report concerning asylum accommodation. It says that the current contract system for asylum accommodation is not working and major reforms are needed. The Committee brands the state of some asylum accommodation provided by Government contractors a "disgrace" and says it is "shameful" that very vulnerable people have been placed in these conditions. For the report, click here

Belgravia squatters
On 31 January 2017 The Guardian reported that a judge has ordered the eviction of a group of squatters from a £15m Belgravia property bought by a Russian oligarch. The squatters had been occupying the property for the last week. For the report, click here

The Rental Exchange scheme
On 30 January 2017 the National Approved Letting Scheme announced that it is backing The Rental Exchange, a scheme that allows tenants to strengthen their credit history, simply by paying their rent. Launched by global information services company Experian, The Rental Exchange records tenants’ rental payments in the same way mortgage payments are recorded. For more information, click here

Homelessness Reduction Bill
This is a Private Members’ Bill introduced in the House of Commons by Bob Blackman which seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996 to make provision about measures for reducing homelessness; and for connected purposes. The Bill has won the support of the Government; for the DCLG press statement in that respect, click here On 17 January 2017 the DCLG announced that councils would receive a further £48 million funding to help deliver new and expanded services under the Bill; for the announcement, click here and for the Local Government Association’s response to the announcement, click here The Bill received its third reading on 27 January 2017 and has now completed all its stages in the House of Commons. The Bill will now go to the House of Lords for consideration. For the Bill as introduced in the House of Lords, click here For progress of the Bill, click here For all the debates on all stages of the Bill click here The House of Commons Select Committee for Communities and Local Government has published a report following its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill; to read the report, click here For the Law Society’s parliament briefing on the Bill, click here For the House of Commons Library briefing paper prepared for the Commons Committee Stage of the Bill, click here.

Renters’ Rights Bill
This is a Private Members’ Bill introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Grender which seeks to provide tenants and prospective tenants with certain rights, including affording access to a local housing authority’s database of rogue landlords, ending certain letting fees and providing for certain mandatory electrical safety checks. The Bill had its Second Reading on 10 June 2016 and completed its Committee stage on 18 November 2016; for a record of the debate, click here It will enter its Report stage on a date to be announced. For the Bill as amended in Committee, click here To read debates at all stages of the Bill’s passage, click here For progress of the Bill, click here

Crown Tenancies Bill
This is a Private Members’ Bill introduced in the House of Commons by Wendy Morton which seeks to provide that ​Crown tenancies may be assured tenancies for the purposes of the Housing Act 1988, subject to certain exceptions; to modify the assured tenancies regime in relation to certain Crown tenancies; and for connected purposes. For the Bill as introduced, click here The Bill is now due to have its Second Reading on 3 February 2017. For progress of the Bill, click here For a research briefing from the House of Commons Library providing background on the Bill, click here

Housing (Tenants' Rights) Bill
This is a Private Members’ Bill introduced by Caroline Lucas which seeks to establish a Living Rent Commission to conduct research into, and provide proposals for, reducing rent levels in the private rented sector and improving terms and conditions for tenants; to require the Secretary of State to report the recommendations of the Commission to Parliament; to introduce measures to promote long-term tenancies; to establish a mandatory national register of ​landlords and lettings agents; to prohibit the charging of letting or management agent fees to tenants; and for connected purposes. The Bill is being prepared for publication and is due to have its Second Reading on 24 March 2017. For progress of the Bill, click here

The London Borough of Croydon v Ms Vanda Lopes [2017] EWHC 33 (QB)
The local authority appealed against a decision of HHJ Bailey sitting at the County Court at Central London on 30th March 2015 ordering the authority to pay 85% of the costs of an appeal brought by Ms Lopes under s.204 Housing Act 1996 (“the Act”).

By a review decision dated 13th May 2014 the local authority had upheld an earlier decision that Ms Lopes and her family were not homeless or threatened with homelessness as she had accommodation available to her, her partner and her two children in Portugal, namely accommodation at a flat occupied by her mother-in-law. Ms Lopes appealed that decision and subsequently produced evidence in the form of a letter from her mother-in-law stating that she would not be able to accommodate Ms Lopes and her family at her home in Portugal.

Ms Lopes agreed to withdraw her appeal upon the local authority agreeing to withdraw the decision of 13th May 2014 and issue a fresh s.202 review decision. The parties agreed a consent on that basis with the question of costs to be determined by a judge following written submissions from the parties. Ms Lopes submitted that she should be awarded the costs of the appeal as she had obtained the relief that she sought if she had won her appeal.

The authority contended that Ms Lopes would have lost the appeal but that it would have had to entertain a new application for housing assistance in light of the new evidence. The authority submitted that it should receive its costs of the appeal from Ms Lopes or there should be no order for costs. In reply Ms Lopes argued that although the letter from her mother-in-law was new evidence it was evidence that should have been obtained by the authority given its obligations to undertake enquiries.

By order dated 30th March 2015 HHJ Bailey held that it was a “failure to make proper enquires” appeal and ordered the local authority to pay 85% of Ms Lopes’ costs. The authority appealed.

The duty to make enquiries
By s.184 of the Act where a local housing authority have reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, they have a duty to make such inquiries as are necessary to satisfy themselves (a) whether he is eligible for assistance, and (b) if so, whether any duty, and if so what duty, is owed to him under Part 7 of the Act.

In decisions such as R v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea ex p. Bayani (1990) 22 HLR 406 and Cramp v Hastings Borough Council [2005] H.L.R. 48 the Court of Appeal have set out correct approach to that duty. Brooke L.J held in Cramp at [58]:

“it was for the council to judge what inquiries were necessary and it was susceptible to a successful challenge on a point of law if and only if a judge in the county court considered that no reasonable council could have failed to regard as necessary the further inquiries suggested by the appellant’s advisers”.

The Issues
On appeal to the High Court Lewis J considered that there were two issues:

(1)          Was the judge wrong in ordering the Council to pay 85% of the costs of the appeal? And
(2)          If so, what is the correct order for costs, is that (1) Ms Lopes pay the costs of the appeal or (2) that  there be no order for costs?

The Decision
In relation to the first issue the judge held that the judge below had not identified the relevant test, and did not refer to the statutory provisions or the decisions of the Court of Appeal. Furthermore, the decision appeared to have been predicated upon the basis the local authority could, and should, have contacted the mother-in law to obtain further information. At [26] Lewis J considered that:

“The Council had conducted two interviews with Ms Lopes herself, with a person present who could interpret for her. The Council had expressly asked Ms Lopes about the nature of the accommodation she and her family occupied in Portugal, why she had left, and whether or not her mother-in-law had asked her to leave. The Council was entitled to reach its conclusion on the information provided by Ms Lopes… The officer who took the original decision did not act unlawfully in not making further inquiries of the mother-in-law but relying on the information provided by Ms Lopes herself. Similarly, the review officer was entitled to rely upon the information provided by Ms Lopes, and the fact that her partner and her children had continued to remain with her mother-in-law whilst Ms Lopes looked for employment in the United Kingdom.”

 There was no basis upon which the judge could have legitimately concluded, on the facts of this case, that the authority had erred in law in not making further inquiries. The judge had, therefore, erred in law and the order dated 30 March 2015 was set aside.

The judge went on to consider the second issue and held that although Ms Lopes had obtained, largely, the relief she sought in reality, that was because of the new evidence and not because she was likely to succeed in the appeal. Significantly, in Lewis J’s judgment, the authority would have succeeded in resisting the appeal and the authority did make sufficient inquiries.

In the circumstance the appropriate order was that Ms Lopes pay the authority the costs of the appeal (subject to any protection to which she is entitled by reason of the fact that she is a publicly funded litigant).

Summary by Alice Richardson, barrister, Arden Chambers. For the full text of the judgment click here.
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Proposals to seek reversal of the reclassification of registered social housing providers in Northern Ireland
This consultation is on the proposals of the Department for Communities to amend current housing legislation and policy so as to facilitate a reversal of the recent ONS decision to classify registered social housing providers in Northern Ireland as public sector bodies. For the consultation document, click here The consultation closes on 8 February 2017.

Funding for supported housing
On 21 November 2016 the DCLG and DWP launched a consultation seeking views on the government’s plans for a new housing costs funding model for supported housing as well as views on how funding for emergency and short term placements should work. It covers the following areas: devolved top-up funding to local authorities in England; and funding for emergency and short term supported housing placements across Great Britain. At the same time the government has published an evidence review of supported accommodation in Great Britain which seeks to provide a helpful insight into the estimated scale, scope and cost of the sector which respondents may find useful in responding to the consultation. For the consultation, click here For the evidence review, click here The consultation closes on 13 February 2017.

Consultation on extending coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to registered social landlords
The consultation sets out proposals to extend coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) to registered social landlords (RSLs). Extending coverage of FOISA would give the same 'access to information' rights to tenants of RSLs as local authority housing tenants currently have. RSLs would have a statutory responsibility to reply to information requests within set timescales. Under FOISA, if an applicant is dissatisfied with how an authority responds they can ultimately appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner who is the independent regulator of the legislation. For the consultation document, click here. To respond online, click here.  The consultation closes on 23 February 2017.

Procedure of the First Tier Tribunal Housing and Property Chamber
The Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014 establishes an integrated structure of tribunals with a First-tier Tribunal (FTT) and an Upper Tribunal. Jurisdictions within the First-tier Tribunal will be organised into ‘chambers’ according to the nature of the dispute. On 1 December 2016, the Private Rented the Private Rented Housing Panel/Homeowner Housing Panel transferred to the FTT – the first of the existing tribunals to move to the new structure. A single set of operational rules is being developed to apply across all jurisdictions in the Housing and Property Chamber. These are required for the expansion of the Chamber to other private rented sector disputes. Views are sought on the operational procedure of the Housing & Property Chamber for hearing the disputes transferring from the Sheriff court, disputes under the new letting agents regime and disputes involving the new tenancies established by the Private Tenancies (Scotland) Act 2016.  For the consultation document, click here The consultation closes on 31 March 2017.  

Private Rented Sector in Northern Ireland – Proposals for Change
This consultation document is the second stage in the Department for Communities’ review of the role and regulation of the private rented sector. It proposes a number of changes which will impact on both landlords and tenants. The document sets out proposals on: supply, affordability, security of tenure, tenancy management, property standards and dispute resolution. The Department will hold four public events to facilitate discussion on this document. For the consultation document and details of the discussion events, click here The consultation closes on 3 April 2017.

Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme: Commissioning Sustainable Services
This is a consultation on a competitive tendering approach for the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme which will consolidate the current number of schemes through joining courts allowing for larger and more sustainable contracts for providers. Providers will offer their services at a price, without an administrative cap or floor, that reflects the costs of delivery in their local area and represents a fair market price for the work carried out whilst maintaining a quality service. For the consultation document, click here To participate in the consultation, click here The consultation closes on 7 March 2017. Results are expected by 28 April 2017.

Homelessness reduction bill: a small step in the right direction Dawn Foster [2017] Guardian 27 January. To read this article, click here

Settling Public Law Claims David Lintott [2017] Local Government Lawyer 26 January. To read this article, click here

Reducing homelessness: The bill and beyond Jenny Pennington [2017] Shelter policy blog 27 January. To read this article, click here

Once the biggest housing associations own 90% of social homes, tenants will lose out Colin Wiles [2017] Guardian 23 January, To read this article, click here

Housing policy proposals are 'just tinkering with the problem' Duncan Bowie [2017] CIH Blog 30 January. To read this article, click here

'Rats and insects' found in asylum housing [2017] BBC News 31 January. To read this article, click here

Solicitor’s agents’ yet again – no rights of audience? Giles Peaker [2017] Nearly Legal 29 January. To read this article, click here

'Intervention needed' to reduce welfare bill without causing more poverty Toby Lloyd [2017] CIH Blog 27 January. To read this article, click here

3 February 2017
Crown Tenancies Bill: second reading (see Housing Laws in the Pipeline)

8 February 2017
Consultation closes on Proposals to seek reversal of the reclassification of registered social housing providers in Northern Ireland (see Housing Law Consultations)

13 February 2017
Consultation closes on Funding for supported housing (see Housing Law Consultations)

23 February 2017
Consultation closes on Proposals to extend coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to registered social landlords (see Housing Law Consultations)

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