Foster children have no right of succession to secure tenancies, regardless of how much they might have become part of their foster families, following a recent ruling by the Court of Appeal.
The case concerns a Mr Steven Wall, who was placed as an infant with Mrs June Wall by Sheffield City Council in 1967. There he remained as a foster child, being treated as if he were one of the Walls’ own children, although he was never adopted.
In 1986, Mrs Wall was granted a secure tenancy on a two-bedroom flat in Sheffield on the express basis that she would occupy the property with her ‘son’ Steven. After living away from home for the purposes of study and a period of working in London, Mr Wall again took up residence with his Foster mother on 28 June 2002.
At this time, Mrs Wall was suffering from cancer and Steven Wall was her primary carer until she died on 21 June 2003, a week short of 12 months since Mr Wall moved back into the premises. In October 2003 the Council served a notice to quit the premises and in December issued a claim for possession of the property. Mr Wall contended that he had succeeded to the tenancy as a member of the Wall family.
In December 2004, the claim came before the Sheffield County Court and Mr Wall was ordered to vacate the premises on the grounds that he had not resided in the property for the required 12 month’s prior to Mrs Wall’s death. At this and subsequent hearings, Mr Wall’s claim to be a member of his foster mother’s family for the purposes of the 1985 Housing Act was not disputed.
Mr Wall appealed this decision but did not apply for a stay of execution, duly vacating the premises, which were then re-let as a secure tenancy to a Mr and Mrs Ingham.
In March 2006, the Appeal Court revoked the possession order of the County Court and asked the various parties to seek a compromise. When none emerged and the County Council informed Mr Wall that they no longer disputed his claim that he met the residence requirement, Mr Wall issued his own claim for possession against Mr and Mrs Ingham.
When the matter returned to the County Court in 2008, the judge dismissed the Council’s claim for possession against Mr Wall, but also dismissed Mr Wall’s claim for possession against the Inghams. The issue of costs was not entirely resolved.
At appeal, it was held that Mr Wall could not be considered Mrs Wall’s “child” within the meaning of the Housing Act. Because he had not been formally adopted by the family, he could not qualify for succession to the tenancy. Even though the Human Rights Act might protect him, as a member of the Wall family, from discrimination on the grounds of his being a foster child, the Housing Act is sufficiently explicit in its definition of successors to make the matter clear.
For these reasons Mr Wall’s appeal was dismissed. The Appeal Court also dismissed an appeal by the Inghams against a rejection of their claim for costs against the Council. It was held that the Council had acted properly in ordering the property to be vacated and in re-letting it once Mr Wall had left, and therefore should not be penalised.