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Social Housing Speed Read – Turner v Enfield London Borough Council

In this week's Speed Read we take a look into a recent High Court case whereby a local authority successfully retained a possession order against a mother and son who suffered from a range of medical issues resided in a three-bedroom property, but had no succession rights following the passing away of the appellant's mother.

The case

Enfield LBC had granted a tenancy to the appellant’s father; when her father passed away, her mother had succeeded the tenancy. Following the death of the appellant’s mother, no further right of succession was available.

Enfield LBC served notice to quit on the appellant and her son and subsequently commenced possession proceedings in 2014.

In March 2015, the appellant made a housing application to Enfield LBC, accompanied by evidence that both the appellant and her son presented with a range of medical problems. Doctors said a move would be detrimental to her wellbeing.

Enfield LBC offered alternative accommodation to the appellant and her son and, in its (defective) decision letter, went on to explain that they would receive a single direct offer,  that they had seven days to reject.  The letter did not mention, refer to or explain their right to review this decision.

Enfield LBC, upon the complaint of the appellant, reviewed their decision and again offered alternative accommodation in August 2015. The letter stated that the appellant and her son would get two direct offers of alternative accommodation and that a right of review existed if the appellant was not satisfied with Enfield LBC’s decision.

The two offers of accommodation by Enfield LBC were ground-floor flats in each instance.

The appellant refused this second accommodation offer and a possession order was made following a trial.

The High Court decision

The Court held that a possession order was both necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. The Court concluded that an appellant’s medical issues coupled with a long duration at a property would not defeat a local authority’s claim for possession where there are no succession rights in play in the circumstances of the case. Enfield LBC had a continuing duty to review the appellant’s accommodation need and, the deterioration of her health certainly formed a new part of her evidence, but did not change the fact Enfield LBC continued to factor her health into their decision.

Further informing the Court’s decision, Enfield LBC’s evidence that there were 1,479 applications waiting for a three-bedroom property was held to be persuasive, and Enfield LBC were entitled to acknowledge that the house could be allocated to someone with “greater need”.

When considering Enfield LBC’s procedural error within their defective decision letter of March 2015, the Court held that the August 2015 decision was a fresh decision and as such, there had not been a breach of natural justice flowing from the error in March 2015 that impacted the August 2015 decision – Enfield LBC could have referred the matter to the Enfield LBC’s housing panel at any time.

In summary, this case involves an interesting decision in relation to balancing (lack of) succession rights, arguments under the Human Rights Act, and the impact of procedural errors, in relation to what could safely consider to be, an appellant entitled to the sympathy of the Court. Despite this backdrop, the Court held that local housing authority landlords have an interest and when undertaking the balancing exercise, reminds us that the Court will look at all the facts and circumstances in the round. The local authority is always best placed to decide on the allocation of its housing stock.

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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