Housing


Housing, Article 8 and A1P1 in the Supreme Court

14 November 2014 by

mapmainSims v Dacorum Borough Council [2014] UKSC 63 – read judgment 12 November 2014 and

R (ota ZH and CN) v. LB Newham et al [2014] UKSC 62 – read judgment 12 November 2014

A brace of cases showing the limited role which Article 8 and Article 1 of the 1st Protocol has to play in housing law, so heavily regulated by a combination of statute and contract law. The human right protections conferred, as we shall see, are mainly procedural.

The contract and property issues are well illustrated by the case of Sims. Mr and Mrs Sims had lived in a council property, until Mrs Sims left, she said as a result of her husband’s violence. For her own housing reasons she sought termination of their periodic secure joint tenancy by unilateral notice. Her husband, as the other joint tenant still living in the property, maintained in response to possession proceedings that he was entitled to remain there as a sole tenant; anything else was inconsistent with his Article 8 and A1P1 rights.

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Removal of subsidy for spare room not unlawful

29 October 2014 by

Bedroom taxCotton and others, (R on the application of) v Minister for Work and Pensions and others, 15 October 2014  [2014] EWHC 3437 (Admin) – read judgment

Whether you call it the “spare room subsidy” or the “bedroom tax”, the removal of this type of housing benefit has been nothing short of controversial. There have been several previous legal challenges to the Regulations, as well as to the benefit cap introduced as part of the same package of welfare changes. The outcome of these cases was not promising for these claimants, in particular the decision of the Court of Appeal in R (MA) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 13. Another important case is R (SG (previously JS)) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 156.

Now the High Court has settled one aspect of the matter by ruling that these amendments did not breach the  rights of singe parents under Article 8 ECHR  who looked after their children under shared care arrangements where they received discretionary housing payments to make up the shortfall.
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Another “Bedroom Tax” Challenge Fails

4 July 2014 by

Bedroom taxRutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.

At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” – did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.

The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.

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Council acted unlawfully in refusing tenancy

29 January 2014 by

Enterprise centreTrafford v Blackpool Borough Council [2014] EWHC 85 – read judgment

The High Court has held that a local authority had abused its powers by refusing to offer a solicitor a new lease of the claimant’s office premises.

The claimant solicitor was aggrieved by the fact that the stated reason for the defendant’s refusal was that her firm had brought claims against the Council on behalf of clients seeking compensation for injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the Council, predominantly in highways “tripping” type claims.

HHJ Davies held that the Council had exercised its “wide discretion” under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1912 for an improper purpose and was “fundamentally tainted by illegality” on that basis. The Council’s refusal was both Wednesbury unreasonable and procedurally unfair.

Public versus private

The interesting question central to this case was whether or not a public body, acting under statutory powers in deciding whether or not to renew or terminate a contract, was acting under public law duties, and therefore amenable to judicial review, or whether  the relationship between the claimant and the defendant was one governed exclusively by private law, where judicial review has no part to play .
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Petition to Strasbourg stops the Spanish bulldozers

31 October 2013 by

article-2465761-18D0E7F500000578-802_634x473This week’s newspapers have highlighted the plight of the thousands of British homeowners who face demolition orders over their Spanish properties because they have been built without proper planning permission.  Permits granted by town mayors during the property boom turn out not to be worth the paper they were written on, and since the regional authorities have overturned most of these permits, the buildings are condemned to destruction. Compensation from the developers and public officials who made these transactions possible is not forthcoming; as the Times leader points out

In a few cases, the courts have ordered that developers or town halls should compensate those who have lost their homes. Yet the former invariably opt for bankruptcy, instead, and even the latter seem markedly reluctant to pay out. Owners, often now back in Britain, face daunting and bewildering battles in foreign courts. (Tuesday 29 October, behind paywall)

Now one couple, Terry and Christine Haycock, are testing how far the Strasbourg Court will go to protect their property rights in this fracas  (which would be under Article 1 Protocol 1).
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When a decision-maker gives retro-reasons

25 October 2013 by

_57148667_012889212-1Lanner Parish Council (R ota) v. the Cornwall Council [2013] EWCA Civ 1290 read judgment

This planning judicial review tackles the problem posed by an authority who says one thing in its formal reasons granting planning permission, and another thing in the court proceedings when the grant is challenged.

Coastline wanted to construct 25 affordable dwellings in Lanner. The Parish in Lanner objected, on the basis that 25 was too many. It referred to a local planning policy (H20) which said that there should be no more than “about 12” houses on any new development in a large village such as Lanner.

The planning officer supported the grant of planning permission, and the Council agreed. The Council’s reasons for grant said that the proposal “accords with” policy H20. But it didn’t, because the policy referred to 12 houses, and the proposal was for 25 houses, and this error in the reasons was one of the Parish’s main points on the judicial review.

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Guerilla gardening in unlawfully occupied property did not give rise to Article 8 rights

8 July 2013 by

GrowHeathrowMalik v Fassenfelt and others [2013] EWCA Civ 798 – read judgment

A common law rule that the court had no jurisdiction to extend time to a trespasser could no longer stand against the Article 8 requirement that a trespasser be given some time before being required to vacate:

The idea that an Englishman’s home is his castle is firmly embedded in English folklore and it finds its counterpart in the common law of the realm which provides a remedy to enable the owner of the castle to secure the eviction of trespassers from it. But what if the invaders occupy for long enough to establish their home within the keep? Whose castle is it now? Whose home must the law now protect?

This was the question before the Court of Appeal in a challenge to a possession order requiring the removal of squatters from private land.

Although there is now some doubt as to whether the leading authority on landowners’ rights against squatters is still good law, Article 8 still does not entitle a trespasser to stay on the land for ever. At its highest it does no more than give the trespasser an entitlement to more time to arrange his affairs and move out.

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The felling of a tree might breach occupier’s right to respect for a home

25 April 2013 by

italocalvinoLane v Kensington & Chelsea Royal London Borough Council (19 April 2013) – extempore judgement by Sir Raymond Jack QBD 

In Italo Calvino’s charming short story “The Baron in the Trees” the twelve year old son of an aristocratic family escapes the stultifications of home decorum by climbing up a tree, never to come down again. He literally makes his home in the treetops of his vast family estate.

So perhaps we shouldn’t quarrel with the inclusion of a tree as part of the concept of home life for the purposes of Article 8. The further twist is that the felling of this particular tree took place on a property where the appellant lived without a tenancy. Nevertheless, this event still amounted to a potential interference with his right to a home under Article 8.
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Randy, rating, and his (house)boat

18 April 2013 by

3568615Reeves v. Northrop, CA, 17 April 2013, – read judgment

Randy Northrop is a Californian and a wanderer in spirit. He lives with his family aboard MY Cannis – see the pic. He got fed up of “living in a grotty council house in a rough area” of Bristol, so bought and renovated this former Thames tug. And nice inside it sounds too – two open fireplaces, several flat screen TVs, a music room and grand piano.

He spent 8 years moored in Bristol, but the “authorities there aren’t too keen on “live-aboards.”” So he moved on and in 2008 ended up in North Devon moored off Chivenor.

How then did he have the misfortune to stray into one of the backwaters of the law – the law of council tax? Because, after featuring in the local paper, he made a generous offer “as a gesture of good citizenship” to pay some “voluntary” council tax. And instead of the authorities saying “how kind, than you very much” he got a “statement” saying that he was Band A – “fait accompli” as he rightly observed. But a po-faced response which did not indeed endear itself to Randy. Hence this challenge by him to the authorities’ decision.

Sounds a bit dry? Not at all. In the witty and elegant prose of Sir Alan Ward, even rating law is made interesting – and the retired Lord Justice pokes fun at the pompous verbiage you have to wade through to answer the question – do you have to pay council tax on a moored boat?

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Triumph for canal boat litigant in person

15 February 2013 by

 KF2-2002Moore v British Waterways Board [2013] EWCA Civ 73 – read judgment

A boat owner has won his appeal against the British Waterways Board preventing him from mooring his boats alongside his land on a tidal stretch of the Grand Canal.  Although he had no common law right to permanently moor the boats, he had committed no actionable wrong in doing so, and they were therefore not moored “without lawful authority” within the meaning of the British Waterways Act 1983. This judgment is an interesting and important endorsement of the principle in English law that everything is permitted except what is expressly forbidden. 

This key “rule of law” principle applies as much to the BWB as it does to the police and other law enforcement agencies.
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More from Strasbourg on possession and Article 8 – Nearly Legal

24 September 2012 by

BUCKLAND v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 40060/08 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1710 – read judgment

The ECtHR’s recent decision in Buckland v UK demonstrates again how wonderfully delphic the subject of housing and Article 8 rights to private and family life has become.

In one sense, the outcome was fairly predictable because the case was determined by the UK Courts before the Supreme Court in Manchester CC v Pinnock established the principles of proportionality in possession claims.

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Housing benefit system discriminated against disabled people, rules Court of Appeal

19 May 2012 by

Burnip v. Birmingham City Council, Trengrove v. Walsall Metropolitan Council, Gorry v. Wiltshire Council [2012] EWCA Civ 629 – read judgment

In the same week that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith, announced his intention to implement sweeping reforms of the current system of disability benefits, the Court of Appeal has ruled that housing benefit rules were discriminatory against disabled people, in breach of Article 14 read with Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention.

Mr Duncan-Smith has already faced opposition to his reform proposals but has made it clear that he is willing to tackle this controversial issue. However, this week’s ruling is a timely reminder that social security law is extremely complex and that the Government will have to tread very carefully to avoid unwittingly causing further instances of unlawful discrimination.

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Radical social housing reform plans published

22 November 2010 by

The Department for Communities and Local Government has published its plans for “the most radical reform of social housing in a generation”.

The reforms which have generated most publicity are those which allow local authorities to offer council homes on short-term lets rather than for life. The ‘council house for life’ scheme was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government 30 years ago.

The general theme of the proposed reforms is giving local authorities more power to set the terms of council tenancies, manage housing waiting lists and allowing them to charge more for council housing. Current tenants will be protected from the changes. For an expert view, see the Nearly Legal blog’s excellent coverage of the reforms, as well as Local Government Lawyer’s post.

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Feature | A human right to money: will it ever happen?

8 June 2010 by

Prime Minister David Cameron has been busy preparing the country for “painful” cuts to pensions, pay and benefits. In a recent Guardian Article, The changing face of human rights, Afua Hirsch comments with approval on the 2008 recommendation by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that a new UK bill of rights should include the rights to health, education, housing and an adequate standard of living. Rosalind English asks whether the time has indeed come for “economic” human rights.

Ms Hirsch cites a number of examples around the world where such “social and economic rights” have been used successfully to challenge government policy on the distribution of healthcare, housing and benefits. Why, then, she asks, is such an extension of our existing rights so strenuously resisted in this country?

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