Reading BC v Holt is an important case on the approach to be taken by the courts when making possession orders under Ground 16 (and since 1/4/12, 15A) of the Housing Act 1985.
Mrs Holt has occupied 28 Southdown Rd, Emmer Green, Reading since her birth in 1953 and she became the successor tenant following the death of her mother on 24th July 2010. Mrs Holt provided round the clock care for her mother in the latter stages of her life and predictably, Mrs Holt formed a strong emotional attachment to the property. Nevertheless, the Council decided in January 2011 that the 3-bed property was too large for her needs and it made available for bidding/viewing 5 one-bed properties between February and May 2012. Mrs Holt declined to show an interest in any of these properties.
The Council issued possession proceedings against Mrs Holt and the case came before Mrs Recorder Moulder in Reading CC, who made a possession order conditional on the Council making available a one bedroom property within 1.5 miles of the present property and with a storage facility for Mrs Holt’s bicycle.
Mrs Holt appealed, arguing firstly that her personal circumstances were so compelling that it was not reasonable to make a possession order against her and secondly, that the Judge ought to have identified a suitable and available unit before making any order.
On the first of these arguments, the Court of Appeal agreed with the Recorder. There was no medical evidence to show that Mrs Holt would not adjust or that she would be deprived of support in a new property. Mrs Holt was reasonably active and it had been two years since her mother’s death. Against these factors, the Court agreed that the balance lay with the Council in its heavy demand for 3 bed properties and it stressed (para.45) that these cases are highly fact-sensitive and comparisons with previous reported cases are of limited assistance.
On the second point, the Court of Appeal held that the court had jurisdiction to make the Order in conditional terms. The reference in s.84(2)(b) was to accommodation that ‘will be’ (rather than merely ‘is’) available, which did not necessarily require a court to assess what accommodation was available at the date of hearing. Indeed, a conditional order provided a greater degree of flexibility for the parties when assessing what might be suitable, without the need for the Council to keep a property vacant pending the conclusion of the hearing.
However, the Court of Appeal also stipulated that the court, before making a conditional order, should be sensitive to the question whether it was desirable to bring the matter back to court. Furthermore, there should be express liberty to apply should circumstances change in the interim and there should be a time limit within which a suitable property is made available, after which time the Order ought to lapse (paras 58-60).