The tough approach being taken by hard-pressed social housing providers towards those who have obtained their tenancies by deception has received the backing of the Court of Appeal.
The case concerned parents of two young children who sought homelessness assistance from a local authority which at the time employed both of them. The woman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the birth of one of her children, who had cerebral palsy. The couple’s housing application was allocated by the council to a local social housing provider.
When filling in an application form, the couple stated that they and their children were living with the woman’s parents and that they had been asked to leave due to overcrowding. They also stated that the woman’s only bank account had a credit balance of £1,000. On the strength of those answers, the provider granted them an assured shorthold tenancy.
The true position was, however, quite different. When they filled in the form, the family was in fact already living in a private rented flat under an assured shorthold tenancy and the woman’s bank balance stood at over £6,000. Her husband had a bank account, into which he paid a second income, and the combined annual income of the household was over £70,000.
Following a police investigation, the woman accepted a caution for three offences of dishonesty arising from the false information she had given in the application form. Her husband pleaded guilty to providing false information in order to obtain housing. Both have since been dismissed from their local authority jobs.
The provider launched proceeding under the Housing Act 1988, seeking the couple’s eviction on the ground that it had been induced to grant the tenancy by their false statements. A judge accepted that that was the case. She nevertheless refused to issue a possession order on the basis that the provider had failed to adequately assess the impact of eviction on the disabled mother and child. That amounted to a breach of the public sector equality duty (PSED) owed by the provider under the Equality Act 2010.
In ruling on the provider’s challenge to that outcome, the Court agreed with the judge that the provider had breached the PSED. However, in upholding the appeal, it went on to find that, even had due regard been had to the mother’s and daughter’s disabilities, it was highly likely that the provider’s decision to institute eviction proceedings would have been the same.
There was no question that, had the couple answered the questions honestly, they would not have been granted the tenancy. They could have afforded to rent a home in the private sector and, by their deceit, they had deprived a more needy family of public housing. In the face of the acute scarcity of such housing, the provider was justified in operating a policy of seeking to remove tenants who had obtained their accommodation by deception. The case was sent back to the judge for a final decision to be reached on whether the family’s eviction would, in all the circumstances, be reasonable.