201704.13

Under-Occupation of Social Housing a Major Challenge for Providers

A Court of Appeal ruling has illustrated the grave difficulties faced by social landlords in recovering possession of under-occupied properties so that they can be leased to those who really need them. It took more than four years and a series of contested hearings to establish that twin sisters were not occupying a council flat as their principal residence and were thus not secure tenants.

The council had been suspicious for some time that the sisters were under-occupying the flat. Their Housing Benefit was stopped after inquiries indicated unusually low gas and electricity consumption at the premises and that the sisters spent the majority of each week living elsewhere with their long-term partners. Their appeals against that decision were rejected by the First-tier Tribunal.

The lack of benefits led to growing rent arrears and the council launched possession proceedings in 2012. Following long delays and much procedural wrangling, a possession order was granted by a judge in 2015. In dismissing the sisters’ challenge to that decision, the Court rejected arguments that the hearing before the judge was infected by procedural unfairness. On the evidence, he was entitled to find that the flat was not the sisters’ principal residence and that they were not secure tenants within the meaning of the Housing Act 1985.

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