R (on the application of Heffernan) (FC) (Appellant) v The Rent Service) (Respondents)  UK 58 concerns the meaning of locality in para 4(6) of Part 1 Schedule 1 Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order 1997.
Locality serves to define the area by reference to which the Local Reference Rent was established and hence the level of Housing Benefit. As the definition of locality is effectively the same for the new system of Local Housing Allowances, the issue is still of importance.
The appeal was from a Court of Appeal judgment upholding a rent officers determination that a locality could be the whole of Sheffield, with outlying rural areas.
Para 4(6) of Part I of Schedule 1 to the 1997 Order provides:
“For the purposes of this paragraph and paragraph 5 ‘locality’ means an area—
(a) comprising two or more neighbourhoods, including the neighbourhood where the dwelling is situated, each neighbourhood adjoining at least one other in the area;
(b) within which a tenant of the dwelling could reasonably be expected to live having regard to facilities and services for the purposes of health, education, recreation, personal banking and shopping which are in or accessible from the neighbourhood of the dwelling, taking account of the distance of travel, by public and private transport, to and from facilities and services of the same type and similar standard; and
(c) containing residential premises of a variety of types, and including such premises held on a variety of tenancies.”
Lords Hope, Neuberger and Scott held that 4(6)(a) set a minimum number of neighbourhoods – two – but that additional neighbourhoods must be justifed by the need to meet the requirements of (b) and (c), i.e. where the variety of tenancies and residences in the two neighbourhoods is not sufficient to establish the highest and lowest rents. Para (b) sets a geographical limit on the selection of neighbourhoods, so the criterea of para (b) must be applied to each proposed additional locality. Appeal allowed.
Lord Rodger disagreed. If a neighbourhood met the criteria in paras (a), (b) and (c), there was no reason why the rent officer could not use it in establishing the rent, and no requirement to justify adding more than two neighbourhoods to the locality [para 28-29]
Lord Walker, bewildered by the absence of guidance on where a locality would actually stop, agreed with Lord Rodger.