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14/09/2010

Oppression, Maladministration and Re-entry

Hammersmith & Fulham LBC v Pill, West London County Court 26 May 2010

With grateful thanks to the Legal Action Housing Updates (on which more shortly).

Ms Pill was Hammersmith & Fulham’s secure tenant. She lived with her two children. There had been a history of domestic violence against her by her partner. In 2008 a postponed possession order was made on grounds of rent arrears. A date for possession was fixed in December 2008, for 16 January 2009. The warrant was suspended a few times, on applications that described the tenant’s problems at home. By late 2009, the relationship with her partner had improved and regular payments to the rent account were made. In January 2010, Ms P’s partner committed suicide, which had a devastating effect on Ms P, who ‘stopped functioning’. From January 2010, her payment towards rent and arrears stopped. She did not open or consider letters, including those from H&F saying a further warrant would be applied for. In February 2010, the housing officer was told about the effects of the suicide on Ms P. The housing officer said the eviction would go ahead and did not visit Ms P. On 4 March, possession of the property was taken while Ms P and family were out.

On 5 March 2010, Ms P applied to set aside the warrant on grounds of oppression. H&F officers had applied for a warrant without obtaining senior management approval and without mentioning the bereavement and its effect in the report seeking approval for the eviction, both contrary to H&F policy.

At the hearing of the application, the District Judge found that there had been oppression. He held that maladministration can be a relevant factor in an oppression case, following Southwark LBC v Sarfo (1999) 32 HLR 602 CA, Jephson Homes Housing Association v Moisejevs (2001) 33 HLR 594 CA and Southwark LBC v Augusta Legal Action 20 February 2007). There was maladministration here in H&F’s failure to follow its own rent arrears procedure, to Ms P’s detriment. In addition, any housing officer encountering news such as that of the suicide and effect on the family, had a duty to investigate. The failure to do so also constituted maladministration as MS P had no opportunity to tell the housing officer why the rent wasn’t being paid. The Council could be criticised to a very high degree.

Warrant set aside.

Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre and Counsel Jim Shepherd for Ms P.

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.

2 Comments

  1. kjetilniki

    Having regard to the case of Zehentner v Austria, one wonders whether the limitation in s85(2) HA85 “or at any time before the execution of the order” by virtue of art 8 has now to be read down and interpreted as allowing applications to suspend to be made after execution even where there has been no oppression especially if there has been no reletting

    Reply
    • NL

      But on a secure tenancy, the possession hearing would already have considered ‘reasonableness’, which is, so far at least, sufficient for a proportionality consideration.

      Reply

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