Harassment by possession claim

In what appears to be a good week for somewhat bizarre cases, may I present Carlos Allen v London Borough of Southwark  [2008] EWCA Civ 1478. This was an appeal by Mr Allen to the Court of Appeal of the striking out of his claim for harassment against LB Southwark.

Mr Allen was a Southwark tenant. Since 1996, Southwark had issued five possession proceedings against him for rent arrears. Southwark had insisted that Mr Allen pay his rent at a Post Office rather than his local housing office, which apparently couldn’t deal with cash. Mr Allen defended the first claim on the basis that his tenancy agreement specified payment at a housing office and it had never effectively been varied to permit or authorise payment otherwise. The first possession claim was struck out as Southwark could not show the tenancy agreement had been varied. And so were the next four possession claims. Each time, Southwark failed to show the tenancy agreement had been varied to permit or include payment at a Post Office.

Mr Allen brought a claim for harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 in respect of the last three possession claims. At County Court, his claim was struck out as having no reasonable prospect of success.

Mr Allen appealed, in person. The issue was whether separate proceedings founded on the same alleged cause of action could constitute harassment under the Act. Southwark argued that its behaviour might have been careless, negligent, perhaps even vexatious, but it wasn’t harassment.

The Court of Appeal found:

The Act did not define the meaning of “harassment”, but subsequent case law found it to comprise conduct that was oppressive, unreasonable or unacceptable, Thomas v News Group Newspapers Ltd (2001) EWCA Civ 1233, (2002) EMLR 4 and   Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust (2006) UKHL 34, (2007) 1 AC 224  applied.

The local authority only asserted that it was careless or negligent, giving nothing further, but a reasonable person might consider that  the authority’s conduct did indeed amount to harassment. The judge was wrong to find  that Mr Allen’s claim had no reasonable prospect of success. The case was to continue to trial in the County Court.

I wish a full judgment was available. I’d love to read the details. Of course, this is going to be somewhat limited application, but I think one has to take one’s hat off to Mr Allen.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Housing law - All, Possession and tagged , , .

3 Comments

  1. I don’t know if you’ve seen and I apologise if I’m slow. This is now reported on Bailii under citation [2008] EWCA Civ 1478. Interesting.

    • I hadn’t seen that. Many thanks, Lee, post updated to give the Bailii link. It is an interesting read.

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