Round-up of legislation, case law, guidance and news: April 2021
Posted on 04/05/21
Welcome to this Housing Matters round up for April
Domestic Abuse Bill becomes law
On 29 April 2021 the Domestic Abuse Bill became law. The new Act makes provision for the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and introduces a statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse based on the non-statutory cross-government definition adopted since 2013.
Among other things, the Act establishes a new duty on local authorities to assess and provide support and safe accommodation to survivors and their children. It requires local authorities to give priority need status to all victims who are homeless and eligible for assistance, so they will no longer need to prove they are vulnerable as result of their abuse in order to access accommodation secured by the local authority.
Most of the Act will come into force in accordance with provisions contained in regulations to be made by the Secretary of State.
Benefit deductions for housing, fuel and water allowed during ‘Breathing Space’
In force from 4 May 2021, these Regulations amend Schedule 9 to the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations SI 1987/1968 to allow deductions for ongoing liabilities of housing, fuel and water to continue to be made from specified benefits while the original debt is subject to a moratorium under the Debt Respite (Breathing Space) Scheme.
Court decides against order to provide suitable accommodation
In Imam, R (On the Application Of) v The London Borough of Croydon  EWHC 739 (Admin), the High Court declined to make a mandatory order requiring the local authority to provide the applicant with suitable accommodation because she did not prove that the living conditions at the property were having an extremely serious effect on her day-to-day life. The Court declined to make the order even though the authority had accepted that the temporary accommodation provided by them many years ago under section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996 was unsuitable for a person in a wheelchair.
The applicant could not show that the authority had breached their duty to make reasonable adjustments to their housing allocation policy under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010. However, the Court declared that the authority was at fault because they had unlawfully failed to consider the applicant’s request to be moved from priority Band 3 to priority Band 1 within their Part 6 housing allocation scheme.
Council fails to lawfully consider medical evidence in non-priority decision
In Perrott v Hackney London Borough Council, Central London County Court, Case No: G40CL220 the Court quashed the non-priority decision that had been upheld on review. The council had been wrong to give ‘equal weight’ to an outdated assessment of Mr Perrott’s medical circumstances by NowMedical Ltd and a recent report from his GP.
The judge concluded that the Council had failed to lawfully consider or address the medical evidence, had not properly applied the Public Sector Equality Duty, and had not lawfully considered whether Mr Perrott was vulnerable in all the circumstances of the case.
Court quashes Council decision to end homelessness relief duty
In Perrott v Hackney London Borough Council, Central London County Court, Case No: G40CL262, an appeal linked to the above, the Court quashed the Council’s decision, upheld on review, to end the homelessness relief duty owed to Mr Perrott under section 189B of the Housing Act 1996.
The judge found that the personalised housing plan (PHP) had no assessment of Mr Perrott’s medical condition or housing needs and had not been updated as his circumstances changed. The Council had not considered what accommodation would be suitable for him, nor had it taken reasonable steps to help him secure suitable accommodation. It had therefore failed to discharge the relief duty.
Mr Perrott’s original failure to challenge the steps the Council had decided to take did not release the Council from their duty under section 189B of the Act.
Third County Court decision that ‘No DSS’ policies unlawful
In Hayley Pearce v Michael Jones & Company and Ms Valerie Quick, Worthing County Court became the third court in the past year to declare DSS discrimination as unlawful. By refusing to show her a flat because ‘people in receipt of benefits' would not be acceptable to the landlord, the estate agent and landlord had indirectly discriminated against Ms Pearce on the ground of sex, contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010.
The defendants were ordered to pay Ms Pearce damages of £4,500 and all her legal fees.
Electrical safety standards now cover most tenancies
From 1 April 2021 the regulations which already applied to new private sector tenancies from 1 June 2020 now also apply to tenancies existing prior to this date.
Homelessness Code of Guidance: April 2021 updates
The following sections of the Code have been added or updated:
4.19 Housing authorities are encouraged to respond to the public authority who made the referral to acknowledge receipt of any referral.
8.44 The vulnerability of applicants who have an underlying health condition which increases the risk of morbidity or mortality from COVID-19, as recognised by the JCVI, should be considered in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
10.18 Local connection to the area of the children services authority that owes young people leaving care duties applies until the young person reaches the age of 21, or beyond their 21st birthday if they continue in the education or training programme specified in their pathway plan.
18.30 The housing authority may send a written notification by email or letter, depending on the needs of the applicant.
18.32 Where housing authorities combine information in one notification letter, this should be clear and comprehensive, and applicants should be made aware of review rights in respect of each of the decisions about which they are being notified.
Guidance on immigration rules and rough sleeping
Published 15 April, Home Office guidance sheds some light on when an application for permission to stay may be refused, or any permission held may be cancelled on the grounds of rough sleeping in the UK.
From 1 December 2020, paragraphs 9.21.1. and 9.21.2. of the Immigration Rules set out a discretionary basis for the refusal of permission to stay. A further amendment on 6 April 2021 clarifies that ‘permission may only be refused or cancelled where a person has repeatedly refused suitable offers of support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour.’
Possession process: guidance during the pandemic
Updated 7 April, MHCLG guidance explains the possession process including new arrangements which will be in place when the stay on possessions ends. There is separate guidance for tenants and landlords in both the private and social sectors.
Guidance for landlords and tenants on mediation pilot
The housing possession mediation pilot, free to use for landlords and tenants, aims to helps resolve cases without the need for a full court hearing. Guidance includes when mediation is offered and how it works.
Shelter briefing for councils on landmark ruling
Briefing for local authorities by Shelter's legal and policy team summarises the ruling in Ncube, R (on the application of) v Brighton and Hove City Council  EWHC 578 (Admin) and outlines its implications for local and central government policy.
The High Court ruled that councils can lawfully provide accommodation to street homeless people during the pandemic, even when they are not eligible for Part 7 homelessness assistance.
HCLG Select Committee reports on Government response to Covid-19
Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee report looks at the response of MHCLG to the pandemic. In the light of the decision in Ncube, R (on the application of) v Brighton and Hove City Council  EWHC 578 (Admin) it recommends the government provides guidance to local authorities on helping people who are ineligible for support, using their powers under the Local Government Act 1972 and the National Health Service Act 2006.
The report also recommends that the government supports tenants to repay rent arrears caused by the pandemic.
Enforcement powers and rough sleepers
House of Commons Library briefing paper discusses the use of the Vagrancy Act 1824, looking at recent prosecutions and convictions as well as calls to repeal the legislation. The paper also looks at powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 including Public Spaces Protection Orders.
Covid Local Support Grant to receive an additional £40 million
Work and Pensions Secretary announces that the Covid Winter Grant Scheme due to end on Friday 16 April 2021 has been extended to 20 June 2021. The scheme, which will be renamed the Covid Local Support Grant, is to receive an additional £40 million.
£3 million for 2021/2022 Homelessness Winter Transformation Fund
MHCLG will provide £3 million to enable community and faith groups to develop self-contained accommodation to be ready for people sleeping rough by winter 2021/2022. The fund will be managed by Homeless Link in partnership with Housing Justice and the grant applications window will open on 4 May 2021.
Homelessness statistics for England: October to December 2020
MHCLG statistics on prevention, relief, main homelessness duties and households in temporary accommodation. Also includes an annex focusing on local authority activity in the context of Covid-19.
694,000 private tenants given notice during the pandemic
A survey commissioned by Generation Rent indicates that one in 12 private renters has been served with a Section 21 notice during the pandemic and that one in three private renters fears that they will lose their home in the coming year.
Affordable housing: who can afford it?
House of Commons Library briefing paper considers the definition and supply of affordable housing in England and the role Housing Benefit plays in accessing it.
2021 Legal Aid Census launched by Legal Aid Practitioners Group
This survey, aimed at everyone working or who has worked in legal aid, hopes to gather data about lived experiences of those working on the frontline, including the toll of the work on their wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic.
Ombudsman report 16-year-old left to live in a tent during pandemic
Medway Council left a Kent teenager and his mother to sofa surf and live in a tent for almost two months from the beginning of July 2020. The family were moved to bed and breakfast on 11 September 2020, after the Ombudsman intervened. During the investigation, the council offered them a two-bedroomed property.
The council has agreed to pay compensation, and to look at what duties it may owe to the family.
Free Rightsnet benefits rates poster
Benefit and tax credit rates 2021 to 2022 tables and poster available