Court of Appeal rules against City Council in defence of widow’s right to be considered for new tenancy

Ref. Leicester City Council v Shearer [2013] EWCA Civ 1467

Mrs Shearer brought a public law defence to possession proceedings against Leicester City Council when, after her husband died, she succeeded the tenancy by statute. Unfortunately for her, the council operates a ‘choice based allocations scheme’, under which applicants are placed in bands of housing need. 

Rented accommodation - councils must follow own plansThat meant that the authority insisted that she and her children could not continue to live at the property and they were advised to seek alternative accommodation through the Housing Options Department. That Department asked for papers from Mrs Shearer to assess her re-housing suitability, but neglected to tell her that the very same information can be used to support a direct offer that would have let her stay on in the house. 

Mrs Shearer has fought the subsequent possession proceedings on the basis of unlawful conduct from the council and was successful in the County Court. After the authority escalated the decision to the Court of Appeal, they were nonetheless defeated again. 

The Court of Appeal fundamentally decided that misleading Mrs Shearer into thinking that the sole purpose of the requested documentation was to consider rehousing her away from the property, when it was actually needed to consider granting her a direct let of the property, was unlawful. They raised the following two fundamental points: 

  • It was made clear to her that the most she could achieve by submitting the requested documents was to pursue an application for different accommodation. Mrs Shearer was a vulnerable person and in the circumstances could not be expected to appreciate that the Housing Services Department was giving her the wrong advice. The facts of the case were exceptional and the local authority could not rely on Mrs Shearer’s non-compliance with its allocation scheme when they had in fact caused that non-compliance by misleading her. 
  • Although the local authority were not bound to make a direct offer to Mrs Shearer, they had acted unlawfully by failing to give this option any consideration. 

Having lost her husband, Mrs Shearer’s circumstances were exceptional and the local authority was well aware of this. The Court felt she had found herself in a desperate situation which meant she had a respectable case for receiving the benefit of a direct let under the allocation schemes, but that the defendant had entirely failed to even consider these matters. 

The case should act as a warning to other local authorities; to carefully follow, to the letter, allocation schemes they have put in place. The courts, it seems, will not look kindly on Councils that neglect to offer their tenants the full options available to them – particularly where that tenant is in a difficult situation and deserves their support.

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LCB / SRJ                                                                                                           10/01/14

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