1st March 2017
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Homelessness statistics
On 20 February 2017 the UK Statistics Authority published a letter written in response to a complaint by Baroness Grender concerning homelessness statistics released by the DCLG. The authority has expressed concern about potentially misleading figures for homelessness. For the letter, click here For coverage in The Guardian, click here

Housing starts
On 23 February 2017 the DCLG announced that the number of new build homes that have started to be built continued to rise last year to the highest level since 2007. The latest house building data show that 153,370 new homes were started in the year to December, up 5% on the previous year. More than 140,500 homes were completed in the year to December 2016. For the announcement, click here For the data, click here

Anti-social behaviour in social housing – England
On 25 February 2017 the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper providing an overview of the remedies available to social landlords to deal with tenants who exhibit anti-social behaviour. The paper focuses on England but some of the same legislation applies in Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland operate under different legislative regimes. To read the briefing, click here  

Anti-social neighbours living in private housing – England
On 25 February 2017 the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper outlining the legal position and potential remedies available where people find themselves living next door to tenants of private landlords or owner-occupiers who exhibit anti-social behaviour. The briefing focuses on the legal position in England. To read the briefing, click here

Forces Help to Buy scheme
On 23 February 2017 the Ministry of Defence published latest statistics for the Forces Help to Buy scheme for January 2017.  789 First Stage applications (ie those which pass initial eligibility checks) were received; 319 Second Stage applications (ie those which pass detailed eligibility checks) were received; 241 payments were made to Service personnel. Since the Scheme began in April 2014: 20,374 First Stage applications have been received; 12,186 of these applications have proceeded to the Second Stage; payment has been made to around 9,950 applicants, totalling over £150 million, an average of approximately £15,100 per claim. For the full statistics, click here

Help to Buy – Wales: Shared Equity Loan scheme
On 22 February 2017 the Welsh Government published statistics for 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. For the statistics in full, click here

Rough sleeping – London
On 27 February 2017 the London Assembly announced that rough sleeping is on the rise in London “with an alarming number of non-UK nationals among them”. In 2015/16, 59 per cent of London’s rough sleepers were not UK nationals; 74 per cent of London’s rough sleepers had support needs relating to mental health, alcohol or drugs; and 32 per cent of those sleeping rough had been in prison, 10 per cent had been in care, and 8 per cent had been in the armed forces. The Assembly said that the problem continues despite more availability of first stage hostel beds, more funding and a number of other measures. For more details, click here

Home building post-Brexit – London
On 27 February 2017 the Mayor of London published figures showing almost 100,000 of the capital’s construction workforce are from the European Union. Sadiq Khan warned that a loss of skilled EU workers could have a seriously detrimental effect on home building and other construction projects in London. For more details, click here

Right to Buy – Wales
On 22 February 2017 First Minister Carwyn Jones announced that the Right to Buy will be suspended for five years in Flintshire to ensure social housing is available for those who need it. The move comes ahead of the Welsh Government introducing legislation to abolish the Right to Buy across the whole of Wales. For more details, click here

New CEO at Shelter
On 21 February 2017 the housing and homelessness charity Shelter announced that Polly Neate, formerly the CEO of Women’s Aid, will become the new CEO of Shelter. She will take up her position on 14 August 2017. For the announcement, click here

Housing benefit changes
On 25 February 2017 Communities, Social Security and Equalities Secretary Angela Constance wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, saying that “urgent reassurance is required that the UK Government will not impose changes to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds in Scotland while discussions continue between governments. The DWP’s plans to remove entitlement for this benefit for young people are not restricted to Scotland. To read the letter, click here

Benefit cap
On 22 February 2017 the Work and Pensions Committee launched an inquiry into the benefit cap and how it is affecting British households. The Committee welcomes written submissions for which the deadline is Friday 7 April 2017. Terrie Alafat CBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, commented: “Our research [published in November 2016] has revealed the new lower cap, which came into effect last November, could make housing in many parts of the UK inaccessible.” For details of the Committee’s inquiry, click here For the CIH response, click here For the CIH research, click here

Children and homelessness
On 22 February 2017 the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) announced that a group of 26 children and young people, aged eight to twenty years old, are launching Change It!, a national campaign on children’s rights and homelessness. The Change It! group come from across England and are supported by CRAE. For more information about the campaign, click here

Young asylum seekers and accommodation
On 27 February 2017 the Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomed the High Court’s judgment in  R (on the application of S) v London Borough of Croydon & Anor [2017] EWHC 265 (Admin), which found that young asylum seekers claiming asylum as children should be treated as such and housed in child appropriate accommodation until the completion of a legal age assessment. The Commission said: “This judgment means recognition of the importance of the safety and well-being of young people claiming asylum. They cannot be trapped in legal limbo while awaiting age assessments.” For the judgment, click here For a summary in Local Government Lawyer, click here For the EHRC statement, click here

Legal aid: housing and debt services – Hertfordshire
On 23 February 2017 the Legal Aid Agency invited expressions of interest from 2013 Standard Civil Contract holders for the delivery of housing and debt services in the North Hertfordshire procurement area. This opportunity is open to all holders of the 2013 Standard Civil Contract, and is not limited to current housing and debt providers. For more details, click here

Rogue landlords
On 21 February 2017 the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health called for offences that would trigger banning orders for rogue landlords under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to be widened. Under current plans, landlords would be banned from renting out property for failing to carry out work required by the council to prevent a health and safety risk to tenants or threatening tenants with violence. Banning orders are set to come into effect in October. In a response to consultation, CIEH says that relevant prosecutions for banning orders should include those taken for illegal eviction under act of 1977 and 1985 and for harassment taken under 1997 legislation. For more information, click here

Affordable homes
On 27 February 2017 Lloyds Bank released its annual analysis of housing affordability. It concluded that home affordability in cities is at its worst since 2008. Average city house prices have outpaced earnings growth over last five years and are now nearly seven times annual earnings. Greater London house prices have recovered the fastest following the downturn with an increase of 57% between 2012 and 2017. Oxford tops the list of least affordable cities and Stirling is the UK’s most affordable city. To read more, 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 has completed all its stages in the House of Commons and received its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 24 February 2017. It will now enter Committee stage on a date to be announced. 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 Report and Committee Stages of the Bill (published on 10 February 2017), click here For a series of factsheets published by the DCLG and providing further background information on the measures within 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. The Bill received its Second Reading on 3 February 2017. It will enter its Committee stage on 1 March 2017. For the Bill as introduced, click here 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

R (on the application of Osman) v London Borough of Harrow [2017] EWHC 274 (Admin)
Application by a private sector tenant for judicial review of the local authority’s decision to place her in a lower priority band as part of its amended housing allocation scheme.

Mrs Osman (the ‘Claimant’) lived with her husband and four children (aged 1-6 years old) in a 1-bedroom flat in Harrow which she rented privately. The four children shared the single bedroom and her husband and she shared the living room. The accommodation was seriously overcrowded and the Claimant’s eldest child had a severe skin condition and allergy which was worsened by the housing conditions. 

On 22.12.13 the Claimant was placed in priority Band A under the housing allocation scheme for London Borough of Harrow (the ‘Council’). This was reassessed in accordance with an amended scheme which came into effect on 01.12.15 and the Claimant’s priority was reduced to Band C. She sought a review of this decision on 27.01.16 but it was confirmed by the Council on 23.03.16.

The Claimant applied for judicial review and challenged the Council’s amended housing allocation policy under Part VI of the Housing Act 1996. She asserted that it unlawfully discriminated against those in the private rented sector by denying equivalent priority to those in the public sector, contrary to Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Claimant also contended that the amended scheme was contrary to section 166A(3) of the 1996 Act as it didn’t ensure that a reasonable preference was given to those occupying overcrowded housing or living in unsatisfactory housing conditions.

Part VI requires local authorities to have a policy for allocating its housing stock.

Paragraph 6.5 (within Section 6) of the Council’s original scheme dealt with ‘ensuring fairness for different groups’ including:

   ‘There are two main groups of people who apply for housing in Harrow:
  • An overwhelming 85% of applicants are people who do not currently have a public sector tenancy, referred to as ‘homeseekers’ (this includes homeless households)
  • The second group, referred to as ‘transfers’ comprises secure and flexible tenants of the council and those assured and flexible tenants of housing associations in the borough who decide to apply to the council rather than their own landlord for a move.’
Section 8 of the Council’s original scheme contained this note ‘Harrow gives only those who lack more than one bedroom or are living unavoidably in severely unsatisfactory conditions reasonable preference for housing.’

As per Holman J in R (Woolfe) v Islington LBC [2016] EWHC 1907 (Admin) the word “preference” must be read and understood in the sense of priority.

In a report presented on 19.11.15 changes were recommended to the Council’s original scheme. This included no longer giving Band A priority to households living in the private sector who were overcrowded by more than one bedroom and instead placing them in Band C. The reason was summarised in the report as:

            “Stop offering high priority to overcrowded families who are home seekers. This has resulted in families remaining in overcrowded accommodation for many years believing this will facilitate an offer of social housing. Families in this situation can resolve their housing need far more rapidly by obtaining suitable alternative accommodation in the private rented sector.”

The Claimant explained that she hadn’t been able to find a replacement rented property in 2015 in the private sector because in each case the landlord was not willing to rent the property to those in receipt of housing benefit.

HHJ Purchas QC (sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court) clarified that on the facts of the case Article 8 was engaged. The framework for consideration of Article 14 was as set out by Brooke LJ in Wandsworth LBC v Michalak [2002] EWCA Civ 271. The parties agreed that private sector tenants would comprise an identifiable group separate from those in the public sector and that there had been a difference in treatment between the two groups which was relevant to Article 14.

The two issues between the parties were:
  • In situations of overcrowding were public sector tenants (transfers) as a group analogous to private sector tenants (homeseekers) including the Claimant for the purposes of Article 14; and if so –
  • Was the difference in treatment justified and proportionate?
The judge gave considerable weight to the decision of the Council as a housing authority entrusted by Parliament to make such decisions. He said that the Council was entitled to consider the significant differences in tenure between the two groups when taking into account the practical effects of its scheme in the allocation of housing and the best use of its resources to achieve the reduction in overcrowding.

The Council had provided evidence that applicants weren’t coming forward to be assisted with overcrowding through the homelessness route, which meant that children were remaining in overcrowded conditions for longer than needed as applicants were declining properties in the hope of obtaining a secure tenancy under the original scheme. The Council’s intention was that by reducing the priority preference to the same as homeless cases the incentive to decline offers through that route would be removed. The judge found that this was a legitimate aim for the purposes of Article 14 and otherwise.

HHJ Purchas QC referred to the perverse incentive and the option for homeseekers to look for alternative accommodation in the private sector, while transfers would have to give up their existing tenure security and other benefits.

At [68] the judge held that:

            “…it is plain that the decision to amend this scheme was driven by the objective of making the best use of what was an increasingly scarce housing resource and not arbitrarily to favour the Defendant’s own tenants over those in the private sector… The question then arises whether any discriminatory effect on the homeseeker group or other consequence was unjustified or disproportionate.

            [69] In that respect I do not accept that the Defendant was acting on the basis of any misdirection as to its legal responsibilities.”

The Claimant’s difficulties in obtaining a private sector tenancy as a person in receipt of benefits did not support a conclusion that the justification for the amendment and its objective was ill-founded or that it was not proportionate for the purposes of Article 14. The amendment was subject to consultation and the scheme allowed for exceptions to be made in individual cases; it wasn’t flawed or unsound.

The application for judicial review was refused.

Case summary by Naveen Agnihotri, barrister, Arden Chambers.  For the full text of the judgment click here.

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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 (F-TT) 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 F-TT – 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.

Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 – Guidance relating to supported accommodation
The Welsh Government is consulting on: statutory guidance landlords must follow when temporarily excluding a contract-holder under a supported standard contract; and non-statutory guidance to assist landlords and local authorities in carrying out their functions relating to extending the relevant period before a tenancy or licence for supported accommodation becomes an occupation contract. The aim of the guidance is to make the legal process clearer for landlords and local authorities to follow and implement. For the consultation document and for the means by which to respond, click here The consultation ends on 28 April 2017.

Fixing our broken housing market
As part of the housing white paper the DCLG is also consulting on changes to planning policy and legislation in relation to planning for housing, sustainable development and the environment. The consultation, including details of how to respond, can be found in the white paper. For the white paper, click here To respond online, click here The consultation ends on 2 May 2017.

Planning and affordable housing for Build to Rent
This consultation seeks views on planning measures to support an increase in Build to Rent schemes across England. This includes changing the National Planning Policy Framework policy to support and to increase the number of new Build to Rent homes, and the provision of Affordable Private Rent homes as the main form of affordable housing provision on Build to Rent schemes. The consultation seeks to promote the availability of longer tenancies (of 3 years or more) in Build to Rent accommodation, to those tenants who want one. For the consultation paper, click here To respond online, click here The consultation ends on 1 May 2017.

Amendment to the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard
From 6 April 2017, the deregulatory measures of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 will come into force, which remove the regulator’s consent powers over constitutional matters and the disposal of social housing assets. As a result, the regulator has considered whether any amendments to its regulatory framework are necessary to continue to meet the consumer regulation objective, specifically to ensure that: actual or potential tenants of social housing have an appropriate degree of choice and protection, and tenants of social housing have the opportunity to be involved in its management and to hold their landlords to account. This consultation document introduces the changes proposed by the regulator to its Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard. This change is to clarify and strengthen, rather than to extend, the regulator’s requirements in regard to consulting with tenants on change of landlord. To access the consultation document and to respond to it, click here The consultation closes on 22 March 2017.

Recent Developments in Housing Law Jan Luba QC & Nic Madge [2017] February issue of Legal Action. Available in print and on-line for Legal Action subscribers. For the latest issue, click here For back-issues, click here

Housing allocation and the treatment of private sector tenants Mathew McDermott [2017] Local Government Lawyer 23 February. To read this article, click here

The timetable for changes to supported housing is recklessly short Zhan McIntyre [2017] Guardian 23 February. To read this article, click here

Can Haringey’s housing development vehicle provide a case study in joint ventures? Kate Webb [2017] Shelter Blog 24 February. To read this article, click here

It ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it – property guardians & ‘licences’ Giles Peaker [2017] Nearly Legal 25 February. To read this article, click here

“Perverse Incentives” [R (on the application of Osman) v Harrow] Giles Peaker [2017] Nearly Legal 25 February. To read this article, click here

From hospital to home Simon Favell [2017] Homelessness Link 27 February. To read this article, click here

The sad cost of renting: never having somewhere to call home Rebecca Nicholson [2017] Guardian 26 February. To read this article, click here

Time to drop the ‘hated’ ban on housing benefit for 18-21s Kate Webb [2017] Shelter Blog 27 February. To read this article, click here

Brain injury and homelessness Leigh Andrews [2017] Homelessness Link 27 February. To read this article, click here

'To tackle homelessness we must first understand the data.' Faye Greaves CIH Blog 28 February. To read this article, click here

7 March 2017

Consultation closes on Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme: Commissioning Sustainable Services (see Housing Law Consultations)

22 March 2017
Consultation closes on proposed amendment to the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard (see Housing Law Consultations)

24 March 2017
Second Reading in House of Commons of Housing (Tenants' Rights) Bill (see Housing Laws in the Pipeline)

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