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Social Housing Speed Read – The ‘one succession’ rule

On 1 November 2019, the Court of Appeal heard Mr Simawi's appeal that centred around the 'one succession' rule that applies to social housing tenancies.

The appeal questioned whether or not Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were contravened by the rule and considered accusations of discrimination put forward by Mr Simawi based on his ‘status’.

In the case of Simawi v London Borough of Haringey (2019), Mr Simawi resided with his mother at a property in Haringey under a secure tenancy and had done so for some time when she passed away in 2013. Mr Simawi had hoped to continue living at the property and to succeed the tenancy of the family home however, the earlier death of his father disallowed this.

Aziz Simawi and Fatima Hussein had held the property for many years under a joint tenancy (granted before 1 April 2012) and so on the death of Aziz, their home passed automatically by survivorship to Fatima who became the sole tenant. Problematically for Mr Simawi, under section 87 of the Housing Act 1985, the ‘one succession’ rule dictates that a property held under a secure tenancy can only pass to a relevant family member on one occasion and this allowance was now spent.

Mr Simawi continued to reside at the property but was soon served with possession proceedings due to his failed succession application. He challenged the council on the basis that he felt that he had been discriminated against as, if his parents had divorced rather than separating through death, the instance of the ‘one succession’ would not have occurred and he would have been entitled to succeed in possession. His argument asserted that on divorce, section 24 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA 1973) allows a court order to transfer ownership of a property – a transfer that does not constitute succession. It was also suggested that the rule indirectly discriminates against women as they are more likely to become widowed than men.

The appeal was later dismissed with the court ruling that the issue revolved around the nature of the contractual agreement made between Mr Simawi’s parents’ and the council – that is, the decision to hold the property as joint tenants – and not discrimination. Further, it was very possible that Mr Simawi’s situation could have remained the same in the instance of divorce, had his mother not obtained the necessary court order. Thus, his status was not considered relevant. It was also stated that no indirect discrimination concerned the rule as Mr Simawi’s situation would have been identical had it been his father who passed away most recently.

The case clarifies that the one succession rule is not in contravention of the ECHR on the ground discussed and that the distinction between types of assignment is deliberate on behalf of Parliament. Providers of social housing are therefore justified in their refusal to accept such applications for succession in the circumstances discussed, but should however be aware of instances relating to succession that may lead to serious hardship as per the judgement.

Representatives for Mr Simawi have stated that he will be applying for the right to appeal from the Supreme Court. All providers of social housing should therefore keep up to date with developments regarding succession, albeit paying close attention to the differences that exist between secure and assured tenancies (particularly regarding eligible persons and fixed term tenancies).

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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