Round up of housing law and news: June 2023
Lower HMO standards for asylum-seeker accommodation
When in force, these draft regulations will amend the definition of house in multiple occupation (HMO) in England and Wales so that accommodation provided on behalf of the Home Office to asylum-seekers will not require an HMO licence from a local authority. They are currently being debated in Parliament and are set to come into force on the day after they are made.
People fleeing Sudan and eligibility for housing help in Wales
New legislation in force from 8 June 2023 confers eligibility for homelessness assistance and the allocation of housing in Wales to people who left Sudan because of the conflict that rapidly escalated on 15 April 2023. Equivalent regulations have been in force in England since 15 May 2023.
Regulation of social housing - new standards on tenant involvement and mutual exchange
From 24 June 2023, these Directions revoke the ‘Tenant involvement and empowerment’ and ’Mutual exchange’ paragraphs of the Directions on Regulatory Standards 2012 and direct the Regulator of Social Housing to set revised regulatory standards on tenant involvement and mutual exchange.
Mobile Homes - pitch fees review in England
This Act amends the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to change the pitch fee review inflationary index used by site owners to increase the fees paid by mobile home owners on their site. From 2 July 2023, the index is the Consumer Prices Index instead of the Retail Prices Index. From the same date, new regulations prescribe a new form to be used when proposing a pitch fee review.
New disregards when calculating welfare benefits entitlements
From 9 July 2023, these regulations amend various benefit regulations, including Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, to provide that Grenfell Tower and Post Office Horizon payments can be disregarded when calculating a person’s entitlement.
DWP and third party deductions for utility debts
The Court of Appeal confirmed that the DWP acted unlawfully when it deducted money owed to utility companies from a person’s benefits without first contacting the person and investigating the matter. The internal guidance to decision-makers in respect of deduction requests from third parties was wrong to suggest that there was no need to do so before deciding whether to grant such a request. The DWP could not assume that the information provided by the third party was correct or sufficient. Fairness required that the benefit recipient was given an opportunity to make representations on whether the debt was owed, and whether a deduction would be in their best interests, before the DWP decision.
HMO licensing and unfit landlord
The Court of Appeal clarified the powers of the First-tier Tribunal's jurisdiction when dealing with an appeal against a local authority decision on the fitness of a landlord to hold a licence for a house in multiple occupation. It held that the tribunal must consider whether a landlord is a fit and proper person on the date on which the authority's decision was made, not whether they were a fit and proper person on the date of the appeal. It also held that an event occurred after the authority's licensing decision would not be relevant to the assessment of whether that decision was right or wrong at that time. This reversed a previous Upper Tribunal decision.
Banning orders against landlords and letting agents
The Upper Tribunal refused a landlord's appeal against a banning order. It rejected the landlord's argument that the First Tier Tribunal could not ban a person from being a landlord under an existing tenancy. The relevant section of legislation made it clear that a banning order could have immediate effect in relation to existing tenancies.
Unlicensed HMO and penalty against landlord
The Upper Tribunal held that the First-Tier Tribunal erred in reducing a civil financial penalty imposed by the local authority against a landlord for being in control of an unlicensed house in multiple occupation. It redetermined the amount of the penalty taking into account all the extended period during which the landlord had committed the offence.
Out-of-area accommodation offered to a family with children was unsuitable
The High Court held that the London Borough of Redbridge failed to take reasonable steps to assess the needs of a single mother and her three children, and to determine what accommodation would be suitable for the household. It found the local authority breached their duties under sections 188 and 189A of the Housing Act 1996 and section 11 of the Children Act 2004.
The authority accepted a relief duty and provided temporary accommodation in a series of different hotels, without cooking or washing facilities, in several instances very far away from the children’s schools. It then purported to end all its homelessness duties with an offer of self-contained accommodation in Peterborough, almost 100 miles from the authority's area. After winning a judicial review of the suitability of all the accommodation offered by the local authority on the ground that it disrupted the children’s education, the family has been provided with self-contained accommodation within the authority’s area.
Local authority failed to take enforcement action against private landlord for serious disrepair
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the local authority caused injustice to a tenant living in private rented accommodation. The authority failed to take formal action against the landlord, as required by law, after discovering category 1 and 2 hazards relating to excessive damp and mould, control of heating, and faulty electrical systems which forced the tenant to move out of the property for several months.
Guidance and news
Hot weather and people sleeping rough
The UK Health Security Agency has released guidance for those with responsibilities for people currently sleeping rough. This includes local authority teams for emergency preparedness, public health and rough sleeping, as well as non-governmental organisations, including those providing temporary accommodation or street-based support.
Homes for Ukraine – guidance covering application from children and unaccompanied minors
The government has updated guidance for local authorities, sponsors, parents, and legal guardians to clarify the definition of legal guardian and add new information about minors accessing health services in the UK.
Homes for Afghanistan – call to small private landlords
The government has issued a call to landlords with five or fewer properties to consider renting them to people arrived in the UK under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy after fleeing Afghanistan. Interested landlords are invited to register their properties on the Afghanistan housing portal.
Private rented sector and selective licensing schemes
The government has updated guidance for local authorities explaining the criteria for making a selective licensing scheme and the types of evidence to be provided to support an application. Selective licensing gives local authorities the power to introduce licensing for all privately rented properties in a given area to reduce or eliminate specific housing problems. A decision to designate an area subject to selective licensing must be approved by the Secretary of State, unless they fall under general approval.
Renters (Reform) Bill
The House of Commons library has published a research briefing explaining how the Renters (Reform) Bill currently going through Parliament will abolish assured shorthold tenancies and section 21 evictions. In summary, as introduced:
the Bill will abolish assured shorthold tenancies and with them, section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. Instead, private sector tenancies will be monthly periodic assured tenancies with no end date
the grounds on which landlords will be able to repossess properties will be amended to make it easier for landlords to repossess properties where tenants exhibit anti-social behaviour or repeatedly build up rent arrears
there will be a new process for implementing annual rent increases - First-Tier Tribunals will determine market rents if a tenant appeals against a landlord’s proposed increase
a new independent Ombudsman will be established for the private rented sector
a new private rented sector property portal will be established so tenants, landlords and local authorities will be able access the information – this will help local authorities target enforcement activity where it is most needed
landlords will be required to consider tenants’ requests to keep a pet - landlords will not be able to refuse unreasonably but will be able to require pet insurance to cover related property damage
The government has published a series of guides to different parts of the Bill.
Protection for people struggling with their mortgage payments due to inflation
HM Treasury and the FCA published a Mortgage Charter that sets out protections for mortgage borrowers facing financial difficulty due to inflation and higher cost of living. Signatories to the Charter have agreed that from 26th June 2023, a borrower will not be forced to leave their home without their consent within 12 months of their first missed mortgage payment, unless in exceptional circumstances. The Charter has been signed by 31 mortgage lenders, representing 85 percent of the mortgage market. This grace period also applies where a possession order has been granted. Borrowers whose lender starts a claim or applies for a warrant in breach of its agreement with HM Treasury can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
The House of Commons library has published a research briefing on people who are unable to switch mortgages to a better deal, even when they are up to date with their payments. Most mortgage prisoners have a mortgage in a closed book of an inactive firm, meaning that the mortgage is held with a lender that can no longer make mortgage contracts because they are not authorised to do so. The briefing gives an overview of how many mortgage-holders became trapped in expensive deals, and of efforts made to help resolve the situation.
LGSC Ombudsman guide on temporary accommodation
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has issued a guide for officers who work in local authorities’ housing and homelessness functions. The guide offers good practice advice on dealing with people who are owed the main housing duty and are occupying temporary accommodation which the council accepts is unsuitable. Cases covered include those where the suitability of the temporary accommodation has not been kept under review, despite the family’s change in circumstances.
Housing Ombudsman survey on social landlords practices and performance
The Housing Ombudsman has issued a call for evidence about how social landlords deal with vulnerable tenants and best practice on communication and service delivery. The investigation seeks to establish:
what it means to be vulnerable in social housing and what is an appropriate response by landlords
what effective communication looks like and how this could help service better outcomes
whether there are areas (either service or demographic) where there are repeated patterns of poor service response
Support for veterans and ex-service personnel
The House of Commons library has published a research briefing detailing the support available to veterans in housing, healthcare, pensions and social security.
Data and trends
Number of UK veterans
The Ministry of Defence has estimated there are 2 million UK armed forces veterans residing in Great Britain in 2022. This number is predicted to fall to 1.6 million by 2028. Although the overall number of veterans is expected to decrease, the percentage of veterans who are of working-age is projected to increase from 37 percent in 2016 to 44 percent by 2028.
Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme data
The government has published data about the number of confirmed visa applications issued to people who applied to come to or stay in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland under the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, collated for operational purposes by the Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Soaring rents in the private rented sector
The Office for National Statistics has published figures for the private rental market in England between April 2022 and March 2023. The median monthly rent was £825 for England, with the highest rents in London and the lowest in the North East.
Just 5 percent of privately rented properties are affordable - the lowest level on record
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published research showing that only five percent of privately rented properties on the market are affordable to people on benefits. The research also shows that private rented homes are more likely to be unsafe, in disrepair, difficult to heat or lacking modern facilities.
The monthly round up of legislation, cases, news and data from Housing Matters