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Service tenants with public landlords

This content applies to England

Service tenants in a public sector accommodation usually have security of tenure as an occupier with basic protection or a secure tenant.

Service tenancies

A service tenant is an employee who lives in accommodation provided by their landlord but does not meet the definition of a service occupier.

For example, a local authority may specifically grant tenancies of its properties to key workers such as teachers and social workers.

A service tenant of a public landlord is normally an occupier with basic protection or a secure tenant.

Where no rent is payable they are an excluded occupier. A service tenant may be able to argue that there is some consideration or 'rent in kind' if they are paid reduced wages because of the accommodation. 

Service tenants with basic protection

A service tenant in the public sector is an occupier with basic protection if they are in one of the following categories that exempt them from being a secure tenant:[1]

  • the contract of employment requires the tenant to occupy the dwelling for the better performance of their duties and the tenant’s employer is a public authority but is not the landlord
  • the tenant is a member of a police force and the property is provided rent-free under section 50 of the Police Act 1996
  • the tenant is a member of a fire authority, the contract of employment requires that they live in close proximity to a particular fire station, and the property was let to them because of this requirement
  • the property has been let on one of the above exempt categories within the three years prior to the grant of the tenancy, and the landlord had notified the tenant that this exemption applies prior to the grant of the tenancy

For the last exemption to apply, the current tenant need not be an employee of a public body. However, the exemption can only last for a maximum of three years in respect of the current lease, however long it was granted for.

The references to contracts include implied and oral contracts as well as written contracts.[2]

A local housing authority, but no other public body, has the power to grant secure tenancy status to a tenant who comes within any of these categories, by notification to the tenant.[3]

The section on Basic protection/excluded occupiers gives more information about the rights of occupiers with basic protection.

Service tenants with secure tenancies

If the occupier does not fall into one of the categories listed in the above section (or their contract of employment requires they occupy the dwelling for the better performance of their duties and the employer is the landlord), and all the general requirements for a secure tenancy are met, then they are a secure tenant.[4]

The general requirements are that the occupier:

  • is an individual
  • occupies a separate dwelling as their only or principal home, and
  • has a tenancy or licence granted by a local authority or other public body (this includes housing associations if the occupation started before 15 January 1989)

For more information about the requirements of a secure tenancy, see the page on Definition of secure tenancies.

A licence granted by a public body is a secure licence if:[5]

  • the general requirements for a tenancy are met (see above)
  • the licence does not fall into one of the categories in 'Basic protection' above
  • the licence does not come under any of the other, general, exceptions to secure status 

Consequently, a secure licence can exist if no rent or other money is paid for occupation. A secure licence is recognised as a secure tenancy.[6]

In one case, a head teacher lived rent-free in a property next to the school where he taught. His employment contract did not require him to live in the property. His work at the school was made easier by his proximity to it, but it was not essential that he lived next to the school to carry out his duties. He was recognised as a secure tenant.[7]

Grounds for possession

The Housing Act 1985 has two grounds for possession that are particularly relevant to service tenants.[8] The grounds only apply where the premises form part of, or are within, the curtilage of a building mainly used for non-housing purposes and:

  • the tenant, or their predecessor, was employed by the landlord or public body and has been guilty of misconduct that would make it unsuitable for them to continue living there[9]
  • the tenant, or their predecessor, was employed by the landlord or public body, the employment has now ceased and the landlord reasonably requires the premises for another worker[10]

To award possession on either of these grounds, the court must consider that it is reasonable to do so. The public body's decision to take possession proceedings must be compliant with its general public sector equality duty, in particular with the duty to remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people who share a relevant protected characteristic (eg disabled people) and meet the needs of such people where these are different from the needs of people who do not share it.[11] For Ground 12, the landlord must also provide suitable alternative accommodation.

Cases on the meaning of 'curtilage of a building' have limited the definition to a small area forming part of the house or building. For example, a house within the grounds of a college did not come within the definition in one case.[12]

[1] para 2(1)-(4), Sch.1, Housing Act 1985.

[2] para 2(5), Sch.1, Housing Act 1985.

[3] para 2(4B), Sch.1, Housing Act 1985.

[4] s.79(3) Housing Act 1985.

[5] s.79 Housing Act 1985.

[6] s.79(3) Housing Act 1985.

[7] Hughes v Greenwich LBC 26 HLR 99, HL.

[8] Grounds 7 and 12, Sch.2, Housing Act 1985.

[9] Ground 7, Sch.2, Housing Act 1985.

[10] Ground 12, Sch.2, Housing Act 1985.

[11] Barnsley MBC v Norton [2011] EWCA Civ 834.

[12] Dyer v Dorset County Council (1988) 20 HLR 490, CA.

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