Social Housing law news - March 2014
Welcome to our bulletin on social housing matters. In this issue, our Social Housing group looks at:
- Draft regulations on the power to require information under the Prevention of Social Housing Act 2013
- R (Masif) v Yousaf 2014 - the importance of stating Grounds relied on in notices
- Other news: Anti-social behaviour legislation; Single County Court; Updated Court forms
Draft regulations published on the power to require information under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013
Draft regulations have been made to give local authorities the power to require information under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. The Act, which came into force in October 2013, created criminal offences for those social housing tenants who unlawfully sub-let their homes granted under secure and assured tenancies. The rationale for the Act is to ensure that social housing is occupied by those it is allocated to, and that local authorities have access to more information in order to detect fraud in this context.
The regulations provide that local authority authorised officers can require a person to provide information relevant to housing fraud investigations. Authorised officers must have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 has been, is being or is intended to be, committed. Those who may be required to provide information under the regulations include banks, utilities providers, and those providing a telecommunications service. It is an offence to fail or refuse to provide the information.
An assured shorthold tenant fell into rent arrears. The landlord served a notice seeking possession relying on Ground 8 (stating that two months' rent was owing both at the date of the notice and at the date of the hearing) The tenant claimed that the notice was defective because it failed to mention that rent was "lawfully" due. The notice did state that the tenant owed at least two months' rent both at the date of service of the notice and at the date of the court hearing. The Landlord set out later in the notice an explanation of why the ground was relied on - that the tenant owed £1,680.00 (three months' rent).
A possession order was granted. The tenant appealed, asserting that the notice was defective because of the failure to include the words "lawfully due". The Tenant, amongst other things, submitted that "lawfully due" had additional meaning "beyond the word "owed" saying that a notice stating merely that rent was owed would fail to alert a tenant that it might have, for example, a counterclaim based on costs of repairs necessary because of landlord default, which he may be able to set off against the rent; and that it was particularly important in this case because the tenant disputed that the rent was due on the grounds that the rent had been waived by the landlord and that she was entitled to set off a sum by way of counterclaim for repairs. In addition, that a strict approach to the requirements of section 8 Housing Act 1988 was essential in the case of mandatory grounds for possession unlike discretionary grounds.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The wording in the notice that rent was owed was sufficient notice to enable a tenant to appreciate that it would be a defence to the claim to show that the rent was not lawfully due. Consequently, the recipient of a notice using the word "owe" ought to be aware that he or she must be able to show that the rent was not owed. The tenant's potential counterclaim for repairs was equally a claim that the rent was not owed. As for taking a more strict approach in the case of mandatory grounds, the Court noted that the Housing Act 1988 Act requirement for a notice to specify the ground relied upon, and particulars of it, applies to all the grounds in schedule 2 of the HA 1988 so it would be odd if the same statutory wording meant different things depending on whether the ground(s) relied on were mandatory or discretionary grounds.
The landlord was successful in this case, and it is settled law that a notice seeking possession does not need to contain the Housing Act 1988 wording verbatim for it to be a valid notice, however, landlords are reminded that the safest way to avoid a challenge to a notice seeking possession is to set out verbatim the words in schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988.
On 13 March 2014 the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 received Royal Assent. The Act contains new tools and powers to address anti-social behaviour including the Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance ("IPNA") and replaces existing ASB legislation including the ASBO. The Act will be brought into force in stages.
Single County Court
The Civil Procedure Rules will be amended in April 2014 (expected to be 22 April 2014 when sections 17(1) and (2) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is due to come into force) to implement a single County Court for England and Wales with one Court seal. Existing county court buildings will act as hearing centres with court administrative offices attached to them. Possession claims not issued on line can be issued at any County Court hearing centre however, in practice they should (as is the case now) be issued at the hearing centre that services the tenant's address (because that is the hearing centre where the claim will be heard) otherwise delays will occur in the claim being sent to the local hearing centre.
Updated Court Forms
Claim forms N5 (possession of property) and N5B (accelerated procedure for assured shorthold tenancies) are to be updated. This change is expected to be on 22 April 2014.