Davis v Watford Borough Council [2018] EWCA Civ 529

Court of Appeal

20 March 2018

A claimant (Mr Davis), who was seeking homelessness assistance from the defendant local housing authority (Watford Borough Council), successfully appealed against a refusal of permission to apply for the judicial review of a decision that he was not entitled to interim accommodation.

Watford Borough Council had decided that Mr Davis was not in priority need of homelessness assistance under section 184 of the Housing Act 1996. Mr Davis requested a review of the decision; however, the Council responded by stating in a letter that it was “minded” to uphold the original decision, although it did not issue a formal review decision. Mr Davis therefore lodged an appeal against the original decision in the County Court under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996. In the meantime, the Council refused his application for interim accommodation. Mr Davis subsequently launched judicial review proceedings in the High Court, but the Court held that the challenge should have been made in the County Court and refused permission for the continuation of the judicial review.

Mr Davis appealed, arguing that the Council’s letter did not constitute a formal review decision and that, under section 204A of the Housing Act 1996, he was not then bound to launch proceedings in the County Court. The Court of Appeal, in allowing the appeal, held that the wording of section 204A related only to instances where a review decision had been issued. If no decision had been made, the section did not apply.

The ruling should be noted by local housing authorities, as it clarifies how the courts will interpret the homelessness provisions within the Housing Act 1996.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Rother District Council v Freeman-Roach [2018] EWCA Civ 368

Court of Appeal

6 March 2018

The Court of Appeal has confirmed that when reviewing a decision as to whether a duty was owed by a local authority to a homeless person, and whether that person had “a priority need” under section 189(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1996, the local authority does not have to establish that the reviewing officer had applied the correct test; rather, it was up to the applicant to show that the decision letter contained an error of law.

The applicant (Mr Freeman-Roach) applied to Rother District Council for homelessness assistance. On an application form, he had told the Council that he had suffered strokes in 2006 and 2013, resulting in communication difficulties, and that he had osteoarthritis in his hands, right knee and both ankles. However, the Council's medical adviser concluded that he was not “significantly more vulnerable” than an ordinary person. Consequently, the council concluded that he did not have a priority need for housing. Mr Freeman-Roach applied for a review of that decision, but it was upheld. He subsequently appealed to the County Court against the review decision and the Council’s refusal to provide interim accommodation pending his appeal. The County Court granted his application for injunctive relief and ordered the Council to provide accommodation until the outcome of the appeal. The Council appealed.

The Court of Appeal, in allowing the appeal, held that there was no basis for quashing the Council’s review decision, nor was there any error of law in its decision not to provide interim accommodation pending the appeal.

The ruling is helpful to local housing authorities as it clarifies the approach to be taken when assessing whether an applicant can be deemed “significantly more vulnerable”.

A copy of the judgment is here.

R (KS and others) v London Borough of Haringey [2018] EWHC 587 (Admin)

High Court

21 March 2018

The High Court has held that the local authority acted unlawfully by not reassessing the housing needs of a severely autistic child.

A family, which included a six-year old autistic child with behavioural issues and whom possessed no sense of danger, lived in a first floor flat that had two balconies. His mother suffered from mental and physical health difficulties. Having identified the children as “being in need”, the local authority's Children's Services department assessed that the home was a safety risk and made a request to Housing Services for assistance under section 27 of the Children Act 1989, and closed its file. However, Housing Services concluded that the family's welfare need was moderate and that there were no serious safeguarding concerns, meaning that it was inappropriate to offer them alternative accommodation.

The family applied for a judicial review of the local authority's decision not to address the risks posed to them by their flat and provide them with suitable alternative accommodation.

The Court, in allowing the application, held that that the local authority had acted irrationally and unlawfully by not promoting the well-being of children within its jurisdiction and for not adequately assessing the family's housing situation.  

The ruling highlights the need for local authorities to appropriately consider the circumstances surrounding a section 27 request.

A copy of the judgment is here.

FirstPort Property Services Ltd v The various long leaseholders of Citiscape – LON/00AH/LSC/2017/0435

First-Tier Tribunal Property Chamber (Residential property)

9 March 2018

The First Tier Tribunal Property Chamber has ruled that the leaseholders of Citiscape, a private tower block in Croydon, must collectively pay the cost of removing dangerous cladding from their building.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, tower blocks underwent safety inspections to ensure that their cladding and insulation were not a fire risk. Citiscape was one of many buildings to fail the tests, as its external cladding contained aluminium composite material – a material that was deemed to have been responsible for the spread of the fire at the Grenfell Tower.

The leaseholders argued that the building's management company, FirstPort Property Services Ltd, should pay to replace the aluminium composite material panels from the building, claiming that the cost should not be added to their service charge as it was not a matter of disrepair. FirstPort Property Services Ltd asked the Tribunal to provide clarification on which party was liable for the costs.

The Tribunal held that:

  • The leaseholders were liable to pay the £263,000 cost of a 24-hour ‘waking watch’ of fire wardens that had been in place at the building, as this had been a “reasonable” cost up until 19 December 2017. Further determination would be required to decide on the reasonableness of these costs after this date;
  • The estimated costs of £483,000 for the replacement cladding, to be included in the service charge, was “reasonable”;
  • The leaseholders may have claims against (1) the manufacturer of the cladding, (2) the developer, if they were negligent in the selection and installation of the cladding; and (3) the local authority, if the relevant building regulations were found to be not fit for purpose; and
  • The leaseholders could appeal the ruling to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber).

This ruling has been anxiously awaited by leaseholders in other buildings across the country that have also failed the safety tests, and who now face the possibility of large bills to remove similar cladding from their blocks. 

A copy of the judgment is here.

Avon Ground Rents Ltd v Cowley and others Re: The Interchange [2018] UKUT 92 (LC)

Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber)

21 March 2018

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has held that it was unreasonable for a residential landlord to ask its tenants to pay upfront for remedial work to the building, where costs were recoverable under National House-Building Council (NHBC) warranties.

The landlord (Avon Ground Rents) wanted to carry out remedial work to the building due to water penetration. Under the terms of the leases, Avon Ground Rents was entitled to recover from its tenants “the reasonable and proper expenditure estimated by the landlord as likely to be incurred” and to require the leaseholders to make an upfront payment towards these costs through a service charge.

The leaseholders refused to pay, arguing that the costs were recoverable under NHBC warranties and that it was unreasonable to demand upfront costs, when they should only have to pay any shortfall between the NHBC’s payments under the warranties and the total costs of the work. Avon Ground Rents launched proceedings, arguing that it was “reasonable” to ask for the whole sum upfront. The First-Tier Tribunal found in favour of the leaseholders, ruling that the tenants' contributions should be reduced to take into account the NHBC's offer to pay (NB: The NHBC had not disputed its liability to contribute towards the cost of the works, but for a time it had not committed itself to paying a specific sum). Avon Ground Rents appealed.

In dismissing the appeal, the Upper Tribunal held that the First-Tier Tribunal had been entitled to hold that Avon Ground Rents’ demand for the tenants to pay the full cost of the remedial works in advance was unreasonable, as the NHBC had agreed to pay almost the full amount and there was no reason to suspect that the payment would be delayed.

A copy of the judgment is here.