Knowles and another, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 19 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has rejected a claim that Gypsies occupying caravans on private land were discriminated against by legislation which resulted in them not being able to claim full Housing Benefit to cover their rent.
Occupiers of caravans on a site owned by a local housing authority receive a Housing Benefit rent rebate of the whole of the rent charged. But if the caravan is on a private site, then the rent on which HB can be claimed is subject to determination by a rent officer, and that is normally substantially less than the full contractual rent charged. The claimants maintained that this scheme fails to meet the essential housing needs of Gypsies on private sites, who have particular site infrastructure and management needs – which result in additional costs, and hence a legitimately higher rent, not reflected in the HB awarded. They contended that the scheme was therefore discriminatory, and in breach of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when read with article 1 of the First Protocol 1 (the right to property) and article 8 of the substantive Convention (the right to respect for family and private life). Continue reading →
BUCKLAND v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 40060/08 – HEJUD  ECHR 1710 – read judgment
The ECtHR’s recent decision in Buckland v UKdemonstrates 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.
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.
Denry Okpor v London Borough of Lewisham, Bromley County Court 25 October 2011 [Transcript not publicly available]
Adam Wagner represented Mr Okpor in this case. He is not the author of this post.
This was a rolled up permission to appeal and appeal hearing (on which more later) for appeal to a Circuit Judge from a possession order made by a District Judge at Bromley. At issue was whether the District Judge was wrong to reject a) a proportionality defence and b) a gateway B public law defence arising from Lewisham’s failure to follow its own policy. It is interesting as an example of proportionality/gateway B defences in action in the County Court, but also somewhat frustrating, for reasons which will become clear.
Mr Okpor was the secure tenant of Lewisham. At the age of 15 he had been taken into care by Lewisham following abuse. He left care aged 18 in 2006. In 2009, aged 21, he was given the secure tenancy. Mr O went into full time higher education later that year and has remained in full time higher education. This meant that the relevant Children Act 1989 provisions for care leavers continued to apply and would do until he was 24, if still in full time higher education. Mr O was receiving support from the Lewisham Leaving Care Team.
The Supreme Court has given important guidance as to when eviction from local authority housing amounts to a breach of a tenant’s human rights. It has also confirmed that courts should have the power to consider the proportionality of previously automatic possession orders relating to council properties.
The judgment forms a double act with the recent decision in Manchester City Council (Respondent) v Pinnock (Appellant), a path-breaking ruling in which the Supreme Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life) requires that a court, when asked by a local authority to make an order for possession of a person’s home, must have the power to assess the proportionality of making the order (see Nearly Legal’s excellent discussion of that decision).
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.
Updated | Manchester City Council (Respondent) v Pinnock (Appellant)  UKSC 45 On appeal from the Court of Appeal  EWCA Civ 852 – Read judgment / press summary
The following is based on the Supreme Court press summary. Our full case comment is to follow.
The Supreme Court has ruled that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family life) requires that a court, when asked by a local authority to make an order for possession of a person’s home, must have the power to assess the proportionality of making the order.
The 9-strong court departed from a series of House of Lords (its predecessor’s) decisions in order to follow a strong line of European Court of Human Rights authority (summarised at para 45 of the decision). The judgment was unanimous, and follows the important recent decision of the European court in Kay and Others v United Kingdom (see our post), as well as that in Connors v UKand others. The decision represents a welcome clarification of the rights of council tenants facing eviction, following a long and tortuous line of conflicting decisions from both the UK and European courts.
Updated x 2 | Kay and Others v United Kingdom (European Court of Human Rights, 21st September) – Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK violated the human rights of short-term tenants of council property whose leases had been terminated. The decision will not, however, prove much help to evicted tenants in similar situations in the future, although it should encourage courts to take their personal circumstances into account when deciding if they should be evicted.
The applicants were occupiers of housing units owned by Lambeth borough council under leases which had been provided by a charitable housing trust. Lambeth brought possession proceedings after the leases were terminated in 1999. The applicants complained that these proceedings breached their right to respect for private and home life under Article 8 (the right to a family life). They were unsuccessful before the domestic courts but the Strasbourg Court found a violation of Article 8, insofar as the applicants had been prevented from raising it as a defence.
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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