Tenants “homeless” if rent is unaffordable? – new caselawMake Text Bigger
The important case of Samuels v Birmingham City Council was decided by The Supreme Court on 12th June 2019. This case decided that a person who had been evicted for rent arrears, as the Housing Benefit did not cover the full rent (£151.49 pcm shortfall), was not to be considered as “intentionally homeless”.
This new case backs up the earlier case law of R v Hillingdon LBC ex p Tinn (1988), and R v Wandsworth LBC ex p Hawthorne (1994), which determined that a person can be considered to be “homeless” if the accommodation available to them is so unaffordable that it would cause them to “deprive themselves of the ordinary necessities of life, such as, food, clothing, heat, transport and so forth”.
The Samuels case does help to clarify that the welfare benefit levels are set at a “subsistence level and are not designed to give a level of income that allows flexibility to spend outside maintaining a very basic standard of living”, and that “income support is not intended to cover housing costs”.
These three cases, considered together, lend strong support to the contention that where there is a Housing Benefit shortfall (or Universal Credit Housing Element shortfall), such that the person can only pay their rent if they use money from their other “subsistence level” benefits, then that person could be considered to be “homeless” as it would not be reasonable for them to continue to occupy unaffordable accommodation.
Furthermore, when considering whether it is “reasonable” for a tenant to continue to occupy accommodation, once they have been served with a valid s21 Notice (or s8 Notice, or Notice to Quit), it could be argued that Councils should take into consideration:
• the financial cost (the added debts the tenant will incur from the cost of court proceedings being passed on to them),
• the physical and mental effects (stress, anxiety, illness, etc) on the tenant and their household members, and
• the damage to their credit history if they have a County Court Judgement (CCJ) registered against them.
In light of the “affordability” case law and other factors mentioned above, I believe that the Council should NOT advise tenants to continue to occupy the accommodation after the end date of the Notice period.
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