The Court of Appeal has recently issued a ruling that will be regarded with dismay by councils as it has allowed a man with a four-bedroom council house to retain it after he was initially told that it was too large for his needs.
Faced with being moved to a smaller property, Mr Randall, a tenant of Wandsworth LBC, reacted by moving members of his family into the property he rented. Mr Randall had succeeded to the tenancy after the death of his father. Six months after his father’s death, the Council served Mr Randall with a notice seeking possession of the house on the ground of under-occupancy by a successor tenant. The Housing Act 1985 allows councils to obtain possession of properties in such circumstances. The Council offered Mr Randall alternative accommodation in the form of a one-bedroom flat, which he declined to accept.
Before the Council could bring proceedings for repossession, Mr Randall’s mother and half-sister moved in to the house to live with him. The Council obtained a possession order, which Mr Randall appealed on the ground that the judge had not taken sufficient account of the needs of his mother and half-sister, since the judge did not regard them as members of Mr Randall’s household at the date on which Mr Randall succeeded to his father’s tenancy.
On appeal, Mr Randall was successful in persuading the circuit judge that the correct date for assessing the suitability of the alternative accommodation offered was the date of the hearing (when he had his mother and half-sister with him), not the date the tenancy had passed from his father to him.
Wandsworth LBC appealed against the decision but the Court of Appeal sided with Mr Randall, ruling that the family of a tenant includes those living with the tenant at the date of the hearing.
This case has profound implications for councils and it is expected that pressure will be put on the Government to make the legislation specific on the point of the exact time which is the ‘relevant date’ for the purposes of the legislation. As it stands, it looks as though tenants who are likely to be rehoused in smaller properties will be able to retain larger premises by moving relatives in to live with them prior to the hearing to assess their accommodation needs.