Sunday 25 August 2013

GLC cautions against presuming non-payment of bedroom tax arrears leads to 'intentional homelessness'

A number of recent housing articles and commentators have suggested that where a tenant is evicted due to the inability to pay rent due to under-occupancy (bedroom tax) deductions, they will 'usually be classified as intentionally homeless', and not be entitled to alternative accommodation as a homeless person. This is not a correct statement of the law in Scotland or England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The statutory intentional homelessness test requires a deliberate act or omission in consequence of which accommodation is lost. This essentially requires local authorities to consider the issue of fault. For example, in the English Court of Appeal case of William v. London Borough of Wandsworth the court expressed this test as follows:

"I accept, of course, that it was for the authority to explain why it took the view that the failure to pay monies due under the mortgage was 'deliberate' within the meaning of section 191(1) of the 1996 Act: or, to put the point the other way, why the failure to pay monies due under the mortgage was not properly to be treated as 'non-deliberate' – in the sense that it was forced upon the applicant through no fault of his own" (at para 36, [2006] EWCA Civ 535).

Where a tenant is paying rent (by way of housing benefit) but accrues rent arrears due to the effect of the bedroom tax and is unable to take any reasonable steps to avoid this, then there would be a strong presumption that this was not the 'fault' of the tenant. If so, a tenant in such circumstances who lost their home should not be deemed intentionally homeless. There is ample authority for this principle, for example:

In R v. Tower Hamlets London Borough Council ex parte Mahmood a council tenant was evicted for arrears.  She was found to have become homeless intentionally. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper Q.C quashed the council’s decision as it failed to indicate whether the council had found that Ms Mahmood deliberately failed to pay her rent – as opposed to being in multiple debt and unable to pay.

R v. Tower Hamlets London Borough Council ex parte Ullah (1992) 24 HLR 680 was a case where an owner occupier in multiple debt sold his house to repay debts: insufficient enquiries were made into the necessity of this course of action and a decision of intentional homelessness was quashed by the court.

Tenants in the South and North East of Glasgow can contact Govan Law Centre's Prevention of Homelessness team for further advice and where possible legal representation: (t) 0141 440 2503.