This item is Part 2 of our free training material for homelessness officers.
In this free series of useful cases on homelessness prevention we invite you to look afresh at the possibilities for prevention outside of the normal tick-box of finding an applicant somewhere else to live or topping up their rent shortfall with DHP.
These are some of the legal routes available to you if you can ask the right questions.
S 175 Housing Act 1996:
(1) A person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for his occupation, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, which he—
(a) is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or by virtue of an order of a court,
(b) has an express or implied licence to occupy, or
(c) occupies as a residence by virtue of any enactment or rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of another person to recover possession.
In part 1 we looked at defective notices as a route to saving a person’s home.
In part 2 we will look at invalid court proceedings which could result in possession claims being defended or adjourned.
Birmingham City Council v Hosey ((2002) CC – Statements of truth on court paperwork must be signed, not stamped.
All court forms used for possession cases have a box on the back called a “Statement of truth” which must be signed. Birmingham council did so many of them in the name of a manager in legal services that they used a rubber stamp each time.
The council took Hosey to court for rent arrears.
The county court judge adjourned the case because the statement of truth had been stamped, not signed, which is a requirement of the civil procedure rules.
Instead of just starting again Birmingham asked to appeal but permission was refused. The judge stating that the person in legal services whose name was on the stamp had no personal knowledge of the case and the requirement that a statement of truth be signed is clearly set out in the court rules.
A stamp may be used in other areas of the forms for instance the claimant’s address but not the statement of truth, which is not actually the court document but a statement within the document.
Moral of the tale: Nobody expects you to be a lawyer but knowledge of a few key provisions of the court rules can really help in spotting ways to defeat possession claims and therefore prevent homelessness.
Bates v Croydon (2001) EWCA civ 134; – seeking an adjournment to allow time for the defendant to get advice and assistance.
You know how it is, people stick their head in the sand and the first time they fetch up at the homelessness unit is the day before the court hearing. What do you do?
Ms Bates was facing possession on 53 allegations of neighbour nuisance.
There was, as you would expect here, quite a bit of pre-court stuff going on. She applied for an adjournment to allow her legal aid entitlement to be assessed but this was refused for lack of sufficient evidence.
She applied to adjourn again but was again refused and a hearing date set which was promptly brought forward to just three days later, leaving her that short time to read the councils full case, witness statements and prepare her defence.
At the hearing she represented herself and lost. Possession order was granted.
She appealed in the county court on the basis that she had her own witness statements which would have helped her defence. Permission to appeal was refused, the possession order still stood.
She applied to the Court of Appeal who set aside the possession order and said the county court judge was wrong not to allow her time to compile a proper defence and wrong to not allow time for her to sort out her legal aid.
They stated that the case should have been adjourned, as the tenant requested.
Moral of the tale: You see? Even when possession has been granted the county court can be wrong in granting it.
The Housing Law Casebook has well over 10,000 cases which ended up in higher courts because the lower courts were challenged. If the prevention officer helps the applicant fill in a standard N244 form, even after possession, it can be enough to save the home. There must however be a chance of success of the defence, not simply denying everything.
Verrilli v. Idigoras (1990) CA – the defendant tenant spoke very little English which derailed the possession application.
Mr Idigoras, a Spanish national with little spoken English was taken to court by his landlord for rent arrears of £912. He went to see a solicitor to arrange a defence but on the day of the hearing his representative was sick and failed to attend.
The tenant attempted to request an adjournment but the judge refused and granted a possession order.
Mr Idigoras’s solicitors took this to the Court of Appeal who said that the failure of the county court judge to adjourn was a miscarriage of justice. The possession order was set aside.
Moral of the Tale: Again, as with Ms Bates, even though a possession order was granted the judge was wrong in granting it. Whilst the homelessness unit would have to open a homelessness case, because on issue of the possession order the tenant was no longer “entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it” the home could still be saved by buying time to get the tenant legal advice and help with income to clear the arrears.
In part 3 we will look at other ways that homelessness can be prevented using an understanding of the finer points of whether or not it is reasonable for an applicant to remain in their accommodation.
If you want practical, hands-on training on matters relating to this approach to homelessness prevention then look at our courses on: