15th January 2020
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Affordable homes and office conversions
On 11 January 2020 the Local Government Association reported analysis finding that more than 13,500 affordable homes had been lost in the past four years as a result of rules allowing offices to be converted into housing without planning permission. The LGA says latest figures show that since 2015, there have been 54,162 new homes converted from offices under permitted development in England. The association estimates this has potentially led to the loss of 13,540 affordable homes. For example, in 2018/19 more than half (51 per cent) of all new homes in Harlow were office conversions, with 48 per cent in Norwich and 43 per cent in Three Rivers. For more information, click here.

New pre-action protocols: housing disrepair and social landlord possession claims
On 13 January 2020 new pre-action protocols came into force in respect of housing disrepair and social landlord possession claims. For the former, click here. For the latter, click here. For a commentary on Nearly Legal on the changes introduced by the new protocols, click here.

Leasehold enfranchisement: Law Commission
On 9 January 2020 the Law Commission of England and Wales published a report setting out options to reduce the cost that leaseholders have to pay to buy the freehold or extend the lease of their homes. As well as reducing the price, these options can clarify and simplify the law, making the process of leasehold enfranchisement easier and less expensive to operate.

Alongside three schemes for determining the premium payable by the leaseholder, the Law Commission has put forward a range of other options for reform, including:

  • Prescribing the rates used in calculating the price, to remove a key source of disputes, and make the process simpler, more certain and predictable.
  • Helping leaseholders with onerous ground rents, by capping the level of ground rent used to calculate the premium.
  • The creation of an online calculator for determining the premium to make it easier to find out the cost of enfranchisement, and reduce uncertainty around the process.
  • Enabling leaseholders who are collectively enfranchising a block of flats to avoid paying “development value” to the landlord unless and until they actually undertake further development.

For the report, click here. For a summary, click here.

Tenancy agreements and pets
On 4 January 2020 the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick called on landlords to make it easier for responsible tenants to have well behaved pets in their homes. The Government estimates that only around 7 per cent of landlords advertise homes as suitable for pets. The Housing Secretary announced that the Government’s model tenancy contracts, which can be used as the basis of lease agreements made with tenants, will now be revised to remove restrictions on well behaved pets. For further information, click here. For comment by Giles Peaker on Nearly Legal, click here.

Criminal landlords and letting agents
On 3 January 2020 the MHCLG announced that more than 100 councils across England have been awarded a share of over £4 million to fund enforcement action against criminal landlords and letting agents. Grants will support a range of projects to enable councils to make the best use of existing powers. This will include trialling innovative ideas, sharing best practice and targeted enforcement where it is known landlords shirk their responsibilities. For the announcement, click here. For comment by the Local Government Association, click here.

Houses in multiple occupation ‒ Birmingham
On 10 January 2020 Birmingham City Council announced that a city-wide direction on houses in multiple occupation (HMO) is to be introduced by the council from 8 June 2020. The Article 4 direction will mean that planning approval is required for the conversion of a family house to an HMO accommodating between three and six people. Current planning rules only require planning approval for properties larger than this. The direction will be supported by a proposed new planning policy set out within the Development Management in Birmingham document, which is subject to a six-week public consultation period from 9 January 2020.

Ahead of the direction coming into force, landlords are being advised to declare existing HMOs to the council. Any existing HMOs declared after that date are likely to require a retrospective planning application or a certificate of lawful use, both of which will incur a charge. For details, click here.

Homelessness and rough sleeping ‒ Stoke-on-Trent
On 6 January 2020 Stoke-on-Trent City Council announced that the council’s cabinet would be asked to approve a new five-year homelessness and rough sleeping strategy to replace the existing strategy that has been in place since 2016. Once approved, the city’s Homelessness Reduction Board, a consortium of service providers and other agencies working with homeless people in Stoke-on-Trent, will oversee the development and delivery of a detailed action plan aimed at reducing homelessness and eradicating rough sleeping in the city. For details, click here.

Legal aid: HPCDS services in Boston and Lincoln
On 8 January 2020 the Legal Aid Agency invited tenders from 2018 Standard Civil Contract holders currently delivering housing and debt services to deliver Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS) services in Boston and Lincoln. Contracts will be offered from 1 March 2020 until 30 September 2020. For details, click here.

Ombudsman’s report: Housing benefit practice
On 9 January 2020 the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published a report highlighting the serious problems people face when authorities make mistakes with housing benefit payments. Problems discussed in the Ombudsman’s report include councils preventing families from challenging decisions about their housing benefit entitlement, or not telling them about their right to appeal, and councils trying to recover overpaid money before appeals have even been considered. To download the report, click here and follow the link at the top right hand of the page.

Ombudsman’s report: Pregnant homeless woman left to sleep on hard floor
On 7 January 2020 the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published a report concerning a pregnant woman, who approached Tower Hamlets Council for help when she was made homeless, but was left in an unfurnished flat, miles from her support network. The woman was left in the flat for three months, and did not have a bed until she was awarded a grant a month into the tenancy. She eventually moved into private rented accommodation three months after approaching the council.

The Ombudsman’s investigation criticised the council for not doing enough to prevent the woman’s homelessness: it delayed both assessing her and issuing her with a personalised housing plan (PHP). It also did not review the assessment when her circumstances changed, and delayed providing her with interim accommodation. The council also did not consider the suitability of the interim accommodation it provided, or reconsider it when she asked it to. The council has agreed to apologise and pay the woman £1,000 to recognise the time she spent living in unsuitable accommodation. For the full report of the case, click here and follow the link at the top right hand of the page.

Ombudsman’s report: Young family left homeless by benefits blunder
On 7 January 2020 the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published a report which found that a young family, including a disabled child, had to leave their home following a miscalculation of their housing benefits by London Borough of Haringey. The single-parent family had been living in privately rented accommodation, but were asked to leave by their landlord after the council incorrectly told him the family owed more than £8,000 in backdated benefits. The family had to stay in unsuitable accommodation while the council put right its mistakes and recalculated the mother's correct entitlement. The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for failing to calculate her benefits properly, not using the mandatory ‘underlying entitlement’ rule to work out her overpayments and not referring her case to the appeals tribunal.

The Ombudsman also criticised the council for wrongly telling the landlord the mother owed a significant debt, and for not properly applying the rules which limit benefits to a family’s first two children. She should have always had the allowance for her third child because her youngest son was born before April 2017. The council was also at fault for the way it handled her homelessness application once she was evicted. The council has already contacted the woman to take a homelessness application. The Ombudsman says that it should now continue to do what it can to help find suitable housing for the family. The council has also agreed to pay the woman £1,000 for the distress caused, a further £1,300 to recognise she was in unsuitable accommodation for six months and £500 for storage costs she incurred when she had to leave her rented property. For the full report of the case, click here and follow the link at the top right hand of the page.

Leasehold and commonhold reform
On 31 December 2019 the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper considering trends in leasehold ownership and ongoing problems associated with the sector. The 2017 Government committed to legislate in this area "as soon as Parliamentary time allows". The Conservative Manifesto 2019 contained a pledge to “continue with our reforms to leasehold.” The briefing paper has been updated to include new statistics released in September 2019. For the paper, click here.

Councils and new housing
On 8 January 2020 the Chartered Institute of Housing, National Federation of ALMOs and the Association of Retained Council Housing published a report which finds that councils still face obstacles to building more homes despite the lifting of borrowing caps that restricted council house-building. While the Government’s planned rents policy from 2020 onwards is generally welcomed by councils, they say that they need more long-term income stability and would prefer a ten-year policy, as opposed to the five years the Government is proposing, coupled with more local flexibility to allow for regional differences. Other significant constraints include:

  • the requirement to allow tenants to buy their homes at a significant discount, and restrictions on how councils can use the money they raise from selling these homes
  • the need for more, and more certain, grant funding
  • land shortages and planning constraints, even when the council is the planning authority for its own development
  • the capacity of the building industry to deliver as many homes as councils and ALMOs want to build
  • shortages of skilled staff
  • competing priorities for finite resources, such as investment in existing stock to meet new safety standards or improve energy efficiency.

For the full report, click here. For a summary, click here.

Rent and housing benefit
On 7 January 2020 Crisis called on the Government to increase investment in housing benefit as the charity published figures demonstrating the amount people have to forego on their food shopping so they can pay their rent because the current level of housing benefit does not cover the true cost of their rent. Crisis says that the data show there are huge swathes of England where the housing benefit shortfall equates to at least a quarter of the national average weekly food shop (£59) for a small family (two adults and two children). In a city such as Leicester, the average weekly rent of the cheapest third of two-bedroom properties is £124.27 compared to the average housing benefit of £109.32, leaving a shortfall of £14.95. This equates to a small family having to give up a quarter of their grocery bill so they can cover the rent. For more information, click here. For details of the charity’s Cover the Cost campaign, click here.

Rent policy ‒ Wales
On 7 January 2020 the Welsh Government announced that, in accordance with the recommendations from the Independent Affordable Housing Supply Review relating to Rent Policy, it had set a rent policy for a five year period beginning in April 2020. There will be an annual rent uplift of up to CPI+1 per cent, each year for 5 years from 2020-21 to 2024-25 using the level of CPI from the previous September each year. CPI in September this year was 1.7 per cent, making the maximum rent increase 2.7 per cent. For the announcement by Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government, click here.

Homelessness ‒ Wales
On 6 January 2020 the Welsh Government announced a new campaign to tackle hidden homelessness by raising awareness that “homelessness doesn’t always live on the streets”. The campaign plans to bring this issue to light and is aimed at young people who may be at risk of or already experiencing homelessness. The campaign also advises the public on what to do if they are concerned about someone they know. For more information, click here.

Universal Credit, Council Tax Reduction scheme and rent arrears in Wales:
interim report

On 9 January 2020 the Welsh Government published an interim report focusing on the impact of Universal Credit on the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) and possible amendments to the scheme. For the report, click here. For a press release concerning it, click here.

Rough sleeping ‒ London
On 10 January 2020 the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launched a new service with the charity StreetLink to allow homeless people to speak directly to professionals about what immediate help would be available. The StreetLink app and website currently allow members of the public to alert local homelessness services to people sleeping on the streets so outreach workers can check on their safety, offer support and help them identify a route off the street. StreetLink will this month launch the StreetLink London Advice Line, allowing people sleeping rough to be connected directly with expert support. For more details, click here.

Domestic violence ‒ London
On 8 January 2020 London's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) announced a new £1 million investment in training doctors and healthcare professionals to boost their abilities in identifying the signs of domestic violence and offering earlier help to victims. Specialist training for doctors and GPs is currently available in ten boroughs. The new funding will expand the programme across 17 boroughs, providing two dedicated domestic violence advocates per borough, with the potential to support more than two million Londoners to access support and guidance. For the announcement, click here.

Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme: consultation response
On 7 January 2020 the Law Society published its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on making the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme more sustainable. Whilst generally agreeing with most of the consultation proposals, the Law Society is concerned that the consultation fails to address the fundamental issues of sustainability which are:

  • The serious sustainability issues affecting the Housing and Debt legal aid contracts which are a prerequisite for obtaining an HPCDS contract.
  • The HPCDS fees are too low and are not commercially viable.
  • The uncertainty created by the HMCTS court closure programme which means that some schemes will disappear and remaining schemes will be impacted by closures of neighbouring courts.

For the Law Society’s full response, click here. For a summary, click here. For the consultation document, click here.

Injunction sought by Leeds City Council to ban ‘tent city’ for homeless
On 3 January 2020 Leeds Live reported that Leeds City Council has taken legal action to stop a volunteer-run homeless camp being set up in Leeds because of fears over infections, drug use and fighting. Homeless Leeds Support Group had plans to pitch dozens of tents in the city centre and provide hot meals and warm clothing for rough sleepers. The council has obtained an injunction because it claims the 2019 camp was a "serious public nuisance" and that at a previous settlement, on Castle Street, residents urinated and defecated in open areas last year; these claims were denied by the group. For the full report, click here.

Cost of fire risk in high rise flats ‒ Leeds
On 10 January 2020 BBC News reported that people living in high-rise flats covered in flammable cladding in Leeds are having to pay fire wardens £400 a month to keep their homes safe. It reports that flat owners in one building, which is covered with a high-pressure laminate (HPL) cladding, were told in October that the building was a fire risk and the cladding should be removed. One resident said that that she is being "crippled" by the cost of making the building safe, as residents are paying £36,000 a month between them for a fire warden service until the issue is resolved. For the report, click here.

Right to rent appeal
On 13 January 2020 the Residential Landlords Association reported that the Government’s appeal against the High Court judgment in R (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWHC 452 (Admin) will be heard on 15 January 2020. In March 2019 the court held that the Government’s Right to Rent policy was incompatible with human rights and in breach of the Equality Act 2010. The judgment prevents the UK Government from rolling out the policy in Scotland and Wales. The action brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) was supported by the RLA and Liberty. For more information, click here. For the High Court’s judgment, click here.


Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill
This private member’s bill, sponsored by Lord Foster of Bath, would require the Secretary of State to ensure that domestic properties have a minimum energy performance rating of C on an Energy Performance Certificate; to make provision regarding performance and insulation of new heating systems in existing properties. The first reading was on 8 January 2020. The second reading will be on a date to be announced. To follow progress of the bill, click here.

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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.


The ageing revolution ‒ beating social isolation through innovation Paula Broadbent 24 Housing 13 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

Housing First: balancing the Principles in practice Alex Smith Homeless Link 13 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

“I know it gives a person pause” Giles Peaker Nearly Legal 12 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

Tenancy deposit ‒ unserved prescribed information Giles Peaker Nearly Legal 11 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

Elephant, Dove, Old Oak, RICS Simon Ricketts Local Government Lawyer 10 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

New Pre-Action Protocols coming! Social Possession and Housing Conditions Giles Peaker Nearly Legal 9 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

Housing priorities for the new year Ashley Campbell CIH Blog 7 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

The Guardian view on the UK housing crisis: no plan to fix it Editorial Guardian 5 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

Governing in uncertain times Victoria Jardine and Peter Hubbard Local Government Lawyer 3 January 2020 ‒ to read the article, click here

Let's get housing right in 2020 Gavin Smart CIH Blog 2 January 2020 ‒ 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

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