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Developments in social housing: February 2014

Anti-Social Behaviour

  • The House of Lords amendments to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Bill have been approved by the House of Commons on 4 February 2014 save for one amendment concerning miscarriages of justice. Subject to some agreement being reached between the Houses the next stage is royal assent. Read the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Bill.

Assured Tenancies

These reforms are really in the “in case you missed it” category:

  • From 15 October 2013 (in England, 5 November in Wales) section 15A of the Housing Act 1988 comes into effect. This provision aligns assured tenancies (i.e. not shared ownership leases and only where the landlord is a private registered provider) with secure tenancies in providing that any parting with possession or sub-letting of the whole of the let property will mean an automatic cessation of assured tenancy status which cannot thereafter be resumed.
  • Section 17 of the Housing Act 1988 has also been amended with effect from 1 April 2012 to allow succession in cases of sole tenancies (where no spouse/civil partner lived at the premises with the deceased tenant) to persons provided for within the tenancy agreement (normally other family members and carers).  This does not apply to pre-1 April 2012 tenancies (by virtue of section 161(7)(a) of the Localism Act 2011).

Civil Procedure

  • Reforms are being made to bailiff procedures and practices with effect from April 2014 and includes preventing bailiffs from entering homes when only children are present, restricting visitors to a period from 6.00am - 21.00pm and banning landlords from using bailiffs to seize property for residential rent arrears without first going to court. Read The Housing Benefit (Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2014.
  • As the fall-out from the Mitchell judgment continues one practical suggestion is to make a provision in a directions order permitting partiers to agree 14-day extensions without having to make an application. This may be useful given the recent decision in MA Lloyd & Sons Ltd v PPC International Ltd [2014] EWHC 41 QB. Read Jasmine Murphy's article.

Homelessness & Allocation

  • In December 2013 the Department for Communities & Local Government introduced statutory guidance under section 169 of the Housing Act 1996 as an addition to the "Guidance for Local Housing Authorities in England on the Allocation of Accommodation" (June 2012).  It follows the passing of the Localism Act 2011 and the greater flexibility given to LHAs to use the private sector to assist homeless households and give greater priority to the “local community”. Read the guidance.
  • With that in mind it is worth noting the recent decision in R (Jakimaviciute) v LB Hammersmith and Fulham [2013] EWHC 4372 (Admin) where permission to challenge the authority’s decision - to generally exclude homeless applicants placed in long term suitable temporary accommodation under the main homelessness duty (despite section 166A(3) of the Housing Act 1996 providing that the statutory homeless should be given “reasonable preference” in any allocation scheme) – was refused. This is now itself, it is believed, subject to a permission application in the Court of Appeal.

Rent Arrears

  • The number of social housing rent arrears cases reported to Citizens Advice rose 13% in July to September 2013 compared to the same period the previous year. Read the report.

Social Security

  • The Administrative Court in Birmingham is to hear a challenge to Sandwell Council’s decision to take Disability Living Allowance into account when considering applications for Discretionary Housing Payments.  Permission has been granted.

Welfare Reform

  • The idea of removing access to Housing Benefit for those people aged between 16-24 remains "on the table". Read a useful briefing note on this proposal and its potential impact.
  • The Government have introduced amending regulations to address the “loophole” in the bedroom tax regulations exempting those in continuous receipt of housing benefit from 1 January 1996 and occupying the same property. View The Housing Benefit (Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2014.
  • January 2014 saw the Court of Appeal dealing with both the benefit cap (R (on the application of JS) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions (Defendant) & (1) Child Poverty Action Group (2) Shelter Children’s Legal Service (Interveners) [2013] EWHC 3350 (QB)) and bedroom tax (R (on the application of MA) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions (Defendant) & Birmingham City Council (Interested Party) (1) Equality & Human Rights Commission (2) Shelter (Interveners) [2013] EWHC 2213 (QB)) appeals.
  • On 5 November 2013 the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) in LA v Bury MBC (HB) [2013] UKUT 546 (AAC) allowed an appeal against the imposition of the bedroom tax and substituted a decision that the claimant was entitled to housing benefit at a three-bedroom rate and further payments from the local authority as is necessary to comply with the decision and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Read the decision.