Your housing rights during COVID-19
- Tenancies and other housing arrangements
- Dealing with section 21 evictions
- Dealing with poor housing conditions and repair
- Benefits to cover your rent and other expenses during COVID-19
- Dealing with local authorities in the context of homelessness
- Living in temporary accommodation
- About these videos
Law for Life recently ran an online course looking at Housing Rights in the time of COVID-19. The aim of the course was to enable staff and volunteers with no legal or housing experience to be better able to support their clients, service users, and friends to deal with common housing issues. The videos below made up part of that course, and we share them here as they are brilliantly helpful in explaining the issues involved and what steps to take. The course was for women's organisations, but the videos and the law they refer to apply to everyone.
Each of the videos focuses on a different aspect of housing law and uses a Q&A format with a housing legal specialist. During the course, participants were able to ask questions - the question they asked and the answers they received are also below.
Tenancies and other housing arrangements
Can the landlord come into the common areas in a shared flat?
That depends on whether there is a joint tenancy of the whole flat or whether the residents rent their own rooms on separate contracts with only a right to use the common parts. If it is the second type of arrangement (tenancy of room only) then yes, the landlord hasn't rented out the common parts, just given a right to use them so he can come in to those parts without notice. However, very frequent visits could be seen as harassment.
How can cash payment be proved?
I suggest trying to use texts or written messages to landlords to prove that payments occurred.
Is it advisable for a tenant to change the lock of the front door to lock out another tenant (who is posing risk to safety) even when the landlord agrees?
I would always prioritise safety over the legal position, so yes, maybe. Be aware that a co-tenant can be guilty of illegal eviction, the Protection from Eviction Act does not just apply to landlords. Ultimately it would be a really short term solution because the other tenant is entitled to access the house and could get their own locksmith to change the locks again.
Can you add a lock to your bedroom door without asking the landlord?
No, but where a non resident landlord was breaking his tenancy agreement by entering a tenant's accommodation without appointments, I have advised people to do this. It would be a breach of the tenant's side of the tenancy agreement so it would need to be a last resort and I would always try negotiation and putting your position in writing first.
The tenant would have to reinstate the door on departure unless the landlord agreed that the lock could be left in place.
What if there is a lock on your bedroom door and the landlord has a key to it?
If you rent a room rather than a whole flat, you have a right to "exclusive possession" of your room, not exclusive possession of the keys. It is normal for a landlord to retain a set of keys in case of emergencies. Of course if you have a tenancy, the landlord should not abuse this entitlement by using the keys other than in an emergency or with your agreement.
If you are in a shared tenancy and someone does not pay, is your personal guarantor still responsible for that?
Yes, if you have to guarantee rent, try to put a cap on the amount that you will be liable for. Usually the landlord refuses to agree to this, but it is worth asking. There are quite a number of technical reasons why a guarantee might not be binding, so if you are called on to pay the rent, you might want to take advice before paying up. See also our information for guarantors.
Dealing with section 21 evictions
If you were given a section 21 where the 2 months ended before the covid-19 changes, is that still valid?
In this case, this notice would have been served before the changes had come into effect, so it would be valid. The new form of section 21 notice issued in March giving 3 months notice would not be relevant. But the landlord won't be able to get a possession order as long as the court freeze is still in place.
If the housing officer says they lost the tenancy agreement, what happens?
It doesn’t stop them taking court proceedings against you.
Regarding the technical grounds to challenge, is it the case that if the tenant finds something they shouldn’t let the landlord know, you should keep that to yourself until you can challenge it more formally?
Hang on to any flaws you find, the time to use them is after the court proceedings have started. Get the maximum delay by putting it in the reply form. Landlords would often discontinue court proceedings at this stage and start again. Also, if you find multiple errors, use them one at a time.
If the landlord owns the property and they say they need to move into the property and they use a section 21 because they want to return to their house, should people still try to challenge that?
With a section 21 procedure it doesn’t matter why the landlord is doing it, whether their reason is good or bad, your technical challenges will still work, so you could always defend.
Bruno has a six month assured shorthold tenancy of a room in a shared house from Logan. Bruno finds the rent high and has not always paid it on time. The six months are nearly up. Logan now says he wants to increase the rent by 20%. Bruno doesn’t think he can afford this. He has a huge row with Logan. The next day, Logan he tells Bruno he must get out at the end of the tenancy (in 3 weeks’ time). What would the position be for Bruno if the landlord shared the accommodation with him?
Even though the tenancy agreement says it is an AST, where the landlord shares in this way it can't be. It is an ordinary 6 months contractual tenancy, and the usual rules apply. There's no need for the landlord to give any particular sort of notice or to go to court. Once the 6 months expires he can evict Bruno. He should give reasonable notice, but 3 weeks would be fine.
Can you challenge a section 21 based on hardship?
No, but you can ask for an extension based on exceptional hardship in your reply form and a judge may well grant it.
If the landlord does something like turn off the gas or enter the property without notice can you use this to challenge the section 21?
You can bring a separate legal case based on any illegal activity the landlord has done but it will not affect the section 21 notice. The only kind of “revenge” evictions there are (limited) protections against are those based on disrepair, but only in particular circumstances. Other kinds of harassment etc. would require a separate court case and would not affect the section 21.
If the tenant hasn’t paid their bills or rent can the landlord get the money back?
They can bring a separate court case based on these but they can’t include them in the section 21 case. The only money they could include in a section 21 case is legal costs.
If you bring a harassment claim case against a landlord while still in the property how would that work? Would it be better to wait until you’ve moved out?
The court could make an injunction to stop the landlord from harassing you, but there are problems with relying on court injunctions to protect you and an abusive person may just keep going. Waiting until after has its own problems however, as while you would get legal aid for an injunction and you can get legal aid to sue forcompensation, if you wait and the claim is for compensation only the level may be too low for legal aid to be granted and you may have to use a small claims court.
Because courts aren’t sitting right now, can landlords get a section 21 notice and can people challenge a section 21 notice?
Landlords can serve section 21 notices as long as they give three months. They can still issue court proceedings at the moment but the courts will stay them and no further action will happen until after 24th August. You also cannot defend during this period as you won’t receive the court forms until after it ends.
Do we anticipate that when this is listed there may not be a court date till the end of the year? Strategically, considering the covid-19 changes to courts etc. is there anything in particular people should bear in mind if they aren’t paying their rent or may be facing eviction? What will it all look like in the next few months?
Court cuts and the backlog means it could take a lot longer. It is also likely that a lot more possession proceedings will be started after June and that will create a backlog too.
Covid-19 pre-action protocols mean landlords have to prove they have tried to negotiate with tenants before eviction. Is this right? How will this work?
There have been rent arrears pre-action protocols for a long time but not for private landlords. Even with LA landlords etc there is still not much come-back if they don’t do it properly. It is unclear how this will function at all in practice. The only penalty the court could really enforce was the landlord not receiving their costs but landlords rarely care about this anyway once they’ve evicted you.
If you’re right at the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy do the 2-3 months time apply, even if your tenancy has come to an end before this?
Yes, the landlord has to give you the correct amount of notice, no matter when your tenancy officially comes to an end.
If you are served a section 21 it will cost money to move house. If the relationship with the landlord is already bad would it be unwise to withhold rent and what action could the landlord take against this?
Lots of people do in practice stop paying their rent, but the landlord can bring separate proceedings against you, although you could counter-claim if they have broken their side of the tenancy agreement. But this could cost the landlord a lot of time and money.
If a landlord gives an unfairly bad reference do you have any legal recourse?
Not really, you could sue them for defamation but it’s expensive and there is no legal aid. Join a renters union!
Dealing with poor housing conditions and repair
This is just one of our resources to help with your housing problems. Be sure to read our guide How to fix problems with your privately rented home
Always start the process with the tenancy agreement, as this may lay out your rights to repairs which could go beyond your statutory rights (this is more likely to be the case with council or housing association tenants than private tenants).
1) Have a select few photographs rather than a very large amount to make it easier for your legal housing advisors to manage. they should be in-focus, one about three foot away, and one further away for scale, and add captions describing the contents for example “damp wall close up”, and be sure to add the date.
2) Document the progress of the damage if it gets worse and any attempts to fix it.
3) Don’t overwhelm your housing support with thousands of email strings – I recommend a single string in chronological order from oldest to most recent, or start a new email each time you develop the correspondence.
4) Do not be aggressive in emails even if you are angry – they could well end up in front of a judge! And could well affect your compensation - if the judge thinks you have already had satisfaction by “sounding off”, they might no longer feel sorry for you.
Do you have to have some kind of technical building knowledge to be able to tell who is responsible for damage, for example condensation damp?
There is technical stuff – condensation damp is black mould that forms on the walls. Not technically disrepair as the wall beneath the mould is perfectly fine. You can wash it off with bleach but could come back within days. Three factors with condensation:
Moisture: amount of water in the air (which ca be reduced by ventilating (for example by opening the windows or using an extractor fan),
Temperature (the colder it is the more likely it is that the water in the air will condense on the coldest surface in the room), and
the insulation of the building – the ability to keep heat in.
Any imbalance between these three factors could cause condensation. Landlords tend to blame tenants and say its your lifestyle. It is true that if you left all the windows open all the time you would be very unlikely to get condensation – but this is not a practical or reasonable solution as your home would be incredibly cold.
You would probably need an expert to bring a claim based on condensation. About 3 square foot (1 sq metre) of mould on a wall is a good ballpark for considering the condensation serious enough to bring a complaint to environmental health, who can then do an inspection and tell you the likely cause. A common cause is the house is cold – airing bedrooms does help, but in bathrooms you really need an extractor fan. Central heating helps but often tenants can’t afford to use central heating and then it can be suggested it is the tenant’s fault. Tenants can be blamed if they overcrowd a property themselves, for example by having several large dogs. Drying clothes in the flat is more difficult to ascertain responsibility – tenants can help by opening a window while they dry their clothes but this is not always possible. The short answer is do get expert help if you can!
How useful is the environmental health department for social tenants? Will they refuse to inspect council properties point blank?
A council can’t serve a notice on itself, so there is no point in contacting the environmental health department if you are a council tenant. They can serve notice against other social landlords such as housing associations, but they will check if you’ve followed the housing associations complaints procedure first.
Is it worth contacting the ombudsman?
If you do not qualify for legal aid, it’s better than nothing but its dreadfully slow. If you are eligible for legal aid and your home is a serious risk to health, then I would always recommend going to a solicitor instead. It is true that the legal aid agency will ask why you have not complained to the ombudsman before applying for legal aid, but the answer is that the case is too urgent to wait. In London, it is uncommon for the legal aid agency to refuse legal aid by saying you must try the ombudsman first.
Some councils have landlord licencing schemes – have they been useful at all in tackling bad landlords?
All large houses in Multiple Occupancy have to be licenced and in some councils licences are mandatory for any rented property. A council can refuse a licence to a landlord with a history of renting out housing that is unfit to live in. The landlord has a right of appeal to a tribunal. Councils can issue something called a “banning order” to someone who has been convicted of a housing offence such as renting out an unfit house – that would make it illegal for the landlord to rent out any flat, however small. However, very few banning orders have been made to date.
Are there any grounds for revenge evictions against council tenants?
The council would have to find one of the specific grounds for eviction in the Housing Act 1885 in order to evict a council tenant, for example rent arrears or bad behaviour. Complaining about disrepair does not count as bad behaviour (as long as you are not being very aggressive about it!)
Is withholding rent a good idea?
This can often cause more problems than it solves. Rent arrears are a ground for possession, it is possible that you could put in a counter-claim for compensation due to the disrepair, but without legal advice that you have a case for a counter-claim I would be hesitant to recommend this.
If you are withholding rent, you should put it to one side and do not spend it – don’t get used to this income. If the arrears do not go down between the council starting court proceedings and the time it gets to court, you could lose your home. So its a dangerous tactic, unless you are incredibly well-organised and disciplined.
Could you ask the council’s environmental health officer for help if the landlord is putting your home at risk to exposure if they allow viewings during COVID-19?
If you wanted to co-operate with your landlord, you could stay outside during the inspection and disinfect everything when they have gone and environmental health may well suggest this.
If you don’t want to give access, you should check your tenancy agreement to see if the landlord has reserved the right to allow viewings. This is usually only the case in the last month of the tenancy. You do not have to let them in for viewings if the tenancy agreement does not oblige you to do so.
If you have agreed to viewings in your tenancy agreement then its breaching your tenancy to refuse. But, the NearlyLegal legal blog suggested that if you refuse to let people in for viewings there’s not much the landlord can do about it at the moment since all possession proceedings have been paused. Most practical remedy is just to say no –your tenancy is presumably ending soon anyway.
Does using a solicitor speed up environmental health getting in contact with you?
If the place is in such bad condition that environmental health could serve an improvement notice then they are under a duty to act. If they are refusing to inspect or make an order they could theoretically be judicially reviewed. Usually the threat of this would speed things up! A threat from a solicitor to do a judicial review could well get your case prioritised.
Is there a legal time limit on your right to get compensation?
You can bring a claim for compensation for up to six years from the breach in a tenancy agreement, but it is generally encouraged the sooner the better, particularly for the relevance of evidence etc.
Is there a legal time limit for a landlords to respond to issues about disrepair? What is a reasonable time limit for a landlord to respond before you have a right to take legal action?
The rule is a “reasonable period”. Some social landlords set out what they consider to be a reasonable period in their tenancy handbooks and that is a useful guide. Otherwise, you have to deal with each case on its own facts. A landlord who needs permission from the building owner before repairing a roof leak will be allowed a longer period than a landlord who owns the whole house. Another way to look at this is to consider the time a homeowner might take to get something fixed, for example the heating –this could be up to three weeks to await an appointment and for the engineer to get the parts etc. The main thing to do is look at what the landlord is doing to try to solve it.
You need to hold the landlord to account, asking what steps they have taken since you last wrote and on what date they took the steps. Probably this letter will be enough to spark them into action.
Some landlords have painted over mould. Does this mean the problem is solved or is it just hiding the problem?
Probably what they have used is anti-fungicidal wash which makes it much harder for the mould to form. If it is put on in accordance with the specification it should be safe and it can be effective, at least for a time. However, landlords often use more than the recommended concentration as they don’t want the mould coming back so it could be bad for you until the fumes go away. But I do not have expert information suggesting any long-term injury to health. (There are many sources of advice about this on the net, for example What causes condensation and how to stop it). You should always start with showing the tenant is addressing the problem, so you can demonstrate it’s a building fault.
In many London boroughs, council estates are being demolished as they say its cheaper to knock down than to repair – “managed neglect”. How do you get the councils to deal with mould etc.? Is it to do with the fact that environmental health can’t put a notice on itself?
Since March 2020 you have a right to take the council to the county court if the mould is bad for your health, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this without a solicitor. If you are not eligible for legal aid, and have a large group of tenants you could band together and create a fighting fund to pay the solicitor for the cost of the environmental health officer – the right solicitor may well not charge you up front as they would hope to get their costs back from the council when they win in court – a “no win no fee” agreement.
What is the threshold of proof that a situation is bad for your health, do we need to consult the tenant’s GP?
So far there is no case law on the new law but old court cases suggest that the legal definition of fitness, is that: “a reasonable tenant [would] regard the conditions as reasonably suitable for occupation” – and “a home must be capable of occupation for a reasonable time without risk to the health or safety of the occupants”.
There is government guidance on the new Fitness for Human Habitation Act that a court is likely to take into account. It says ”fit for human habitation’ means that it’s safe, healthy and free from things that could cause you or anyone else in your household serious harm. For example, if your house or flat is too cold and you can’t heat it, this can affect your health.”
It lists hazards and risks, these are also available on the Shelter website. You should also use common sense – mould causes asthma so extensive mould must make a home unfit.
GPs can be pretty useless with making the connection themselves but environmental health officers are specifically trained to make the link between environment and health and judges are not supposed to go against an expert opinion, unless another expert is saying something different.
What about damaged furniture? Is the landlord obliged to change those things if, for example, the bed was broken by a previous tenant?
There is nothing in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to say the landlord has to repair furniture. There are health and safety rules e.g. it can’t be a fire hazard but if it is something like a broken bed you might have to delve into consumer law. The Consumer Protection Act 2015 could potentially help. If you argue that furniture is provided by the landlord you are into the realm of the trading standards department instead of environmental health.
You could also argue that there is an implied right in the tenancy agreement that the landlord has to keep in repair anything that is named in the inventory. In reality, you are not going to go to court about a broken bed. But to argue with letting agents, I would recommend using these two ideas.
What if there is no inventory?
I would encourage tenants to make an inventory, if the landlord has not done so, but its bad for a landlord if they have no inventory, as then they cannot prove that the furniture was in good condition at the beginning of the tenancy.
What are the key advantages of housing association and council tenancy right to repair clauses? What are the universal mechanisms that can help people? How do you know if you have the right version of the tenancy agreement?
I have never seen the statutory right to repair scheme used, that’s the sop that the government gave council tenants –and I wouldn’t usually recommend using it. A lot of people don’t have the money to pay outright for repairs in any case.
Most housing associations have quite lengthy tenancy agreements or handbooks which often include a list of time scales for repairs, so they could potentially be in breach of their own tenancy agreements if they do not comply with the time limits. Its quite hard for them to amend their tenancy agreement so it is likely to be up to date, and with the council you would look at the most recent tenancy agreement issued.
There is a mechanism to increase the rent in housing associations but there isn’t a mechanism to amend the tenancy agreement unless the tenant agrees, which can be useful to the tenant.
The main advantage is security of tenure so as long as you are polite and non-aggressive you are relatively safe. You will also be more likely to find a solicitor to help you as councils and housing associations have money, and therefore there is less risk for a solicitor than going against a private landlord.
With Section 8 evictions where people have unpaid rent, are there any other tips to get a section 8 thrown out?
The technical defences used in a section 21 can’t usually be used for section 8 possession proceedings. The section 8 grounds have different lengths of notice depending on the ground being used, so sometimes landlords can slip up and give the wrong period of notice.
Another defence might be that their notice has expired before they’ve started their court proceedings. But the best defence to rent arrears proceedings under section 8 is a counter-claim for disrepair. Also, the lengthy court case that will ensue will give you time to clear your arrears (if you were disciplined and saved the money).
Regular payments even of low amounts normally show the judge you are reliable and acting in good faith – I used to recommended to pay regular small amounts instead of larger payments at longer intervals. For example paying £150 a month is better than paying £600 sporadically. Erratic payments are much less impressive than regular small payments that show you’ve got your finances under control. Of course if you can pay a lump sum and then maintain regular payments afterwards, that would be best of all.
Benefits to cover your rent and other expenses during COVID-19
What are the exemptions to the benefit cap for people that are working?
Claimants in receipt of certain benefits are exempt from the cap, as are claimants who earn at least £604 per month. For claimants who have been working and earning at least £604 a month in the 12 months before their claim, there is a grace period of 9 months before the benefit cap is applied. See Benefit cap - when you're not affected for the full list of exceptions.
What should you do if you have trouble asking the DWP to split a joint account payment into separate accounts?
You can ask a support worker or friend or someone else to ask for an Alternative Payment Arrangement on your behalf. See Universal Credit: Alternative Payment Arrangements
Can you get both New style Job-Seekers Allowance and Universal Credit?
You can claim either or both, but new style JSA depends on your national insurance record.
Council tax support and local authorities get to decide whether or not they help, is it really up to individual council’s discretion?
Before 2013 there was a national scheme of council tax benefit but since 2013 funding has been devolved to local authorities to administer themselves. So each local authority has a different scheme – most working age people have to pay something towards their council tax, although pensioners can still receive help to cover 100% of their council tax bill. There are also other exemptions and discounts you might get through your local authority so it is worth checking.
Do you have to pay council tax if you are in a refuge?
A full Council Tax discount is available on a person's main home if they have had to leave due to domestic abuse and they become liable for Council Tax at their new address.
Do you automatically qualify for housing benefit if you live in a refuge or hostel? And would it automatically cover all the costs of the hostel?
A claim for housing benefit can be made for people living in either temporary or specified accommodation. This includes local authority hostels for homeless people where care, support or supervision is provided, or refuges for survivors of domestic abuse. Housing benefit is means-tested and may not cover all of your rent. If it does not, get further advice.
For more information on who is eligible for HB and what it covers see Housing benefit.
Is there a child benefits cap where there is a cap if there is a third child?
There is a two child policy but it doesn’t apply to child benefit. It does apply to universal credit though, unless the exceptions apply.
Do housing benefit and childcare costs of Universal Credit count towards the benefit cap?
The housing benefit does, the childcare element doesn’t.
Does your universal credit entitlement change if you move in with or separate from a partner?
Under the old system you would have to make a new claim but now under universal credit they just join the claims together or split them apart. You have to notify the DWP but you don’t have to make a new claim. Child benefit can not be split between a couple. If you can’t decide who will receive it then it will be decided by HMRC.
How does HMRC decide who gets the child element?
This only happens when both parents claim they are looking after the children – it usually boils down to how much physical time they spend with each parent. In cases where its literally split down the middle they will look at wider factors such as finance, but they will ultimately make a decision in the favour in one parent. This is very rare though.
Is there any reason that you could be sanctioned during Covid-19 period?
Not for work search purposes, in theory you could still be sanctioned for failing to check your journal or undertake a telephone meeting. But this isn’t something I’ve heard of happening, as most of their resources have been diverted towards processing new claims.
A lot of people at the moment can’t pay their rent - if you are receiving Universal Credit and it barely covers your rent, what should you do? Some people I know have been recommended to only pay the local housing allowance rate – what could happen to them if they do this? Is there anything the DWP would do in this situation?
They could apply for discretionary housing payments from the local council to top up the difference in their rent. From the DWPs perspective, the housing element is paid as part of a monthly sum and its your responsibility what you do with it. If you choose not to spend it on your rent they will not be interested in that and it won’t affect the amount of UC paid. The landlord may well approach the DWP and request that the housing element is paid directly to them through an alternative payment arrangement. They may not necessarily receive the full rent but they would receive the full housing element. This could leave the claimant with very little remaining to live on. Contact Shelter for advice if you have difficulties paying your rent - Shelter - get help.
If you have a change of circumstances is your Universal Credit stopped? Could this lead to arrears?
You do have to notify the DWP of a change of circumstance, including a change in rent costs, and it is in your interest to notify as soon as possible. Unless told to do so by the DWP, employees do not need to tell the DWP about their earnings as this information is collected automatically from the employer. Self-employed people still need to declare their earnings monthly.
If you are on housing benefit and other legacy benefits you have to notify each relevant office every week about changes in income or other changes in circumstance. Every week your housing benefit will be recalculated. The same with tax credit. With Universal Credit you don’t have to tell them.
Dealing with local authorities in the context of homelessness
Can you apply to two local authorities at the same time?
Yes, there is nothing to stop you but it will be more paperwork. In practice if a local authority finds out that you have also applied to another one they may be reluctant to help, but that is not the law.
If your child is in school in an area is that evidence of local connection? Does the age of the child matter?
There are four ways you can have a local connection - normal residence, employment, family and “other special reason”. This would be a good argument that you have a connection for “other special reason”. The age of the child is not relevant but how important the school is to their education is key; so if the school has facilities or provision that most schools don’t have, that would be a stronger connection.
In the case of rent arrears and intentionality, does it make a difference whether you were evicted or chose to leave?
If you have rent arrears because you cannot afford the rent then it is not reasonable for you to continue to live there and they can’t say you are intentionally homeless for leaving it, whether you were evicted or you left voluntarily.
Can local authorities directly contact your friends and family? Can local authorities legally involve social services if you reject an offer?
They have the right to contact family and friends even if it is invasive.
They may well use social services as a threat to make you go away. However, Children’s Services may actually help you find accommodation – the law says children should be housed with their parents as far as possible.
In the personal housing plans they often make you ring all your relatives – is it a reasonable step to consider that you live with a distant relative hundreds of miles away?
To go through a list of your relatives contacting them and asking if you can stay is considered a “reasonable step”. If you refused an offer from a relative 100 miles away they could say you were intentionally homeless. Just don’t tell them, or tell your relatives to refuse to house you.
Do they have a duty towards you even if you don’t have local connection if you have a child? Do they have to do a needs assessment anyway?
Absolutely. Local authorities owe duties to anyone who approaches them, local connection only comes in later. They should always go and assess everyone. What happens in practice is that they try and put people off saying that they don’t have a local connection, so they won’t have to open a file. Ask for them to put it in writing and they will probably go ahead and start the process.
Are they allowed to ask for ID straight away?
They can ask but it is not a precondition for completing an application or a decision over whether you are priority need.
Do you have a right to have the decision in writing the same day, before you leave the building?
You can say that you won’t leave until you’ve got it in writing – that could well clear the obstacle straight away – make them open a file because they can not lawfully put a refusal to assess someone in writing.
Can they use a spent criminal record against you?
They might try to use it for intentionality if it relates to why you are homeless but not if it is an old/unrelated crime. If they were to use it, it would undermine the fact that ex-prisoner is one of the categories of vulnerability.
What are the deadlines for complaining about council conduct?
You have to go through the council complaints process first. If that is unsuccessful, you then have 12 weeks from your final answer from the council to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
Since you don’t have to present ID, if you are under no recourse to public funds conditions but you are in priority need does the council have a duty to at least provide you with interim accommodation? Are they acting with more discretion during covid? Have they provided more people who have no recourse to public funds with temporary accommodation?
In order for the housing department to provide you with interim accommodation, they must consider that you may be in priority need and also to be “eligible”, which means having immigration status. So if they know you are NRPF (no recourse to public funds) they will not help you. You may be able to get accommodation via the Home Office instead. If they are not sure they will try to resolve this the day you present, but if they can’t resolve it, they ought to provide you with interim accommodation until they can.
Completely separately from the homelessness law we have been discussing, in March the housing minister wrote a letter to all local authorities asking them to provide accommodation for all rough sleepers, including people with no recourse to public funds. It was a letter, not a law, unlike most other covid-19 regulations. Housing barristers have been able to force local authorities to obey that letter by threatening judicial review, but you may need a lawyer to enforce it. The problem is they don’t have funding to provide accommodation for no recourse to public funds people, which also costs more because they can not claim benefits. The government is not providing this money. As a result some local authorities have been refusing people with no recourse to public funds.
Living in temporary accommodation
If you are challenging allocation on the grounds of affordability, are schools a key way of challenging?
Yes, schools are a great way to challenge, if there are no spaces in schools in the area they wish to send you to, that is a really good argument. There are specific affordability regulations in Chapter 17 of the Code of Guidance, also outlining how distance affects affordability. Social ties are a factor but you have to be specific about why you need them e.g. specific vulnerabilities like childcare or PTSD.
Homeless people who have been temporarily housed in hostels look likely to be evicted soon. Is this classed as interim accommodation? And do they have a right to claim temporary accommodation?
The government did not make a new law that homeless people ought to be put in hostels, they just sent a letter to local authorities asking them to. These people are not in the formal homelessness process. They do not have any rights except under this government letter. Anyone accommodated in this way should also be assessed by their local authority under the homelessness provisions. Lots of them will not be found to be in priority need, but there is no alternative legal structure available for accommodating them right now.
Is the definition of overcrowding different for local authorities and housing associations?
There is only one legal definition of overcrowding and it is nearly 100 years old and includes living rooms as bedrooms. It is hard for properties to be considered overcrowded within that definition. There are other definitions. The local authority’s allocation policy may well have a different definition which is more generous. Housing associations might also have their own. The environmental health department do not have a specific definition but could potentially consider overcrowding to be a hazard. You do not have to fit the statutory definition – you could use the council’s own allocation criteria against them in an overcrowding argument. Getting doctors or health officials involved, especially regarding children, could also help a lot.
If you are only given a six-month window whilst in temporary accommodation to bid for available properties, but do not manage to secure any, is it legal that you are not allowed to bid again?
It depends on the council’s allocation policy, there is no specific law that overrides this.
Can you challenge bad temporary accommodation using human rights articles? And can you argue suitability whilst wanting to stay in the property?
Human rights articles 3 and 8 are relevant to arguments based on suitability but are not automatic. The factors you would raise would be the same. It could help to reference Human Rights but it is not necessary for making suitability arguments. You can also mount a suitability challenge, even if you are trying to stay in a building, to change the factors that make it unsuitable e.g. frequent inspections or curfews and visitor restrictions. You would have to do the formal review process before going to the county court and make it clear what specific relief you are looking for, and how you think they should tackle it. You can fight to make the property more suitable. Even if you are housed by a third party, the council can put pressure on them to improve the conditions. The danger however is that the council will simply move you even if that isn’t what you want.
How do you challenge suitability in interim accommodation?
The only way to challenge suitability while in interim accommodation is to go to the high court with a judicial review. It can work but you need a very strong case and you will need legal advice. You can make the arguments to the local authority anyway. It also depends on whether or not you have a local authority landlord whether it is safe to ask the landlord for repairs. It can be dangerous if you have a private provider with a reputation for revenge evictions.
If you are moved from interim to temporary accommodation in the same property do your rights and ability to challenge suitability increase when it is designated temporary?
If the local authority decides you are owed the full duty you are expected to be there for longer so the standard of the accommodation should be higher. Also, you have a formal right to a review. The letter accepting a full duty and saying that your accommodation remains suitable should also contain information about your review rights. They have eight weeks to consider it – they ought to do it faster if the situation is extremely unsuitable.
If you can only be in a bed and breakfast for six weeks, does that restart if you are moved to a new B&B?
It is six weeks in total, it doesn’t start again if you are moved from one property to another. The rule says local authorities should never place a family in a B&B, and if they must it is only for a maximum of six weeks. That is B&B accommodation as a whole, they can’t restart the six weeks by moving you. The rule does only apply to privately owned B&Bs. If its local authority owned, that formal rule doesn’t apply but the research saying B&B is bad for children still does, so you can still mount a suitability argument on the basis of the six weeks rule.
If the local authority is doing an assessment and has placed you in temporary accommodation and before the six weeks is over they move you to a different accommodation, and then it does start again, is that right?
The six weeks rule only applies to B&B accommodation. Then, separately, there is the procedure of homeless law, where you may be moved around from place to place during the time that you are in interim accommodation, before they’ve finished the process of deciding whether they owe you the full duty. If they keep moving you to privately owned B&Bs after six weeks that is unlawful and you could take them to court and put pressure on them. A lot of local authorities do break this law, but if you know about it, it is a very effective way of putting pressure on them.
Is it obvious to the person in the hostel whether it is local authority owned or privately owned?
It should say on your licence agreement. You can also carry out your own investigations if it is not clear. You can check the property owner via the Land Registry, it costs £3, but it is actually more useful to see who is on your licence – they are the ones responsible whoever the ultimate owner may be.
Are there a lot of local authority owned B&Bs?
I’m not sure of the proportion but I have encountered them many times in practice.
If people are moved on very short notice but they have self-contained flats, sole occupancy, and irregular inspections, are these actually tenancies not licences (despite what it says on the agreement) and therefore could you challenge the frequent moves on the basis that it is a tenancy and they have the right to four weeks’ notice?
The difficulty is their legal rights are so limited in these circumstances. They may wind up with the council’s duty being rescinded. You could use the idea of illegal evictions but it’s riskier than using suitability arguments. Could be worth a group of people using the licence-tenancy argument with a private provider, it is safer if it is a number of people rather than an individual.
About these videos
These videos were made as part of the Fighting Precarious Housing programme we ran during the lockdown. The course consisted of six weekly videos on different aspects of housing law, with a particular focus on the needs of women.
These videos were accompanied by a weekly Zoom webinar which focussed on developing skills and confidence, and provided an opportunity to ask questions of one of the brilliant trainers who worked with us on this course.
It was funded by Trust for London and the Bar Standards Board.
Read more about the community-based education and training that we run on the Law for Life site.