Heavy handed, inaccurate threats of legal action – Metropolitan HT harass their tenants

Worthington & Anor v Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd (2018) EWCA Civ 1125

The Court of Appeal on an instance of tenancy management going bad, very bad indeed. And the landlord losing a claim against them for damages for harassment under Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

As briefly as possible,  Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin were assured tenants of Metropolitan HT in Chesterfield, two properties on the same estate. (Ms P moved from one to another in 2007).

Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin had for some time been concerned about antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhood. Indeed, prior to his tenancy in respect of 46 Hardwick Drive, Mr Worthington had been obliged to move home on no less than four occasions and Ms Parkin had, with the consent of the Association, installed CCTV equipment at her home at 28 Hardwick Drive for the purposes of her own security. In addition, Mr Worthington had formed what he described as the Arkwright Town Residents Group of which he was the self-appointed chair. He set up a website for this group on which he collated and stored evidence of what he considered to be unacceptable behaviour and from time to time he uploaded onto the site some commentary on the material displayed there.

Unfortunately the activities of Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin generated a considerable amount of hostility from their neighbours. The Association received complaints that Ms Parkin’s recordings were causing a nuisance and invading the privacy of other residents; and it was said that both Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin were taking inappropriate photographs of other residents including, in particular, children and other young people.

(We should be immediately clear that neither of these complaints were found to have any substance at trial. Ms Parkin’s CCTV was found to be used solely for her own protection and had been installed with Metropolitan’s permission.)

A couple of meetings apparently reassured MHT that the complaints were baseless, but nevertheless, in May 2007 their solicitors sent a letter to Ms P saying:

“…. On checking previous correspondence I note you were given advice from MHT’s solicitor about the siting of your camera and restrictions on the recordings. It would appear from the content of the complaint that you have ignored some of this advice and this may have serious implications for you.
I therefore ask that you redirect your camera so that it does not capture routine activities of children and young people. You are also asked to arrange for the removal from public display [of] images of young people where permission has not been given for their use. Please let me know when this has been done.
I regret that, if you fail to comply with these requests, I will have no option but to withdraw our consent to the fitting and use of CCTV cameras on our property and you will need to render them inoperable or take them down. …”

Mr W wrote to MHT protesting this letter. Nothing then happened until September 2007, when a new estate manager, a Mr Kotecha, was appointed by MHT. Ms P had moved from one address on the estate to another in August 2007.

Mr Kotecha began by visiting Ms P in September 2007 and telling her to take her CCTV down. After the position with regard to ASB had been explained to Mr Kotecha (and a complaint to his superiors) Mr Kotecha emailed Mr W saying

“Vanessa has forwarded me your email. We spoke yesterday about the CCTV Lynda has installed. Due to the nature of complaints and seriousness of the [sic] we are having to seek legal advice from our solicitors. As I explained to Lynda when I visited her on 6th September my advice to her was to remove them. She has failed to take my advice and complaints continues [sic] regarding the CCTV. The Association have to act on every complaint…”

The Judge at first instance found

that by this time the relationship between Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin, on the one hand, and Mr Kotecha, on the other hand, had become difficult, that Mr Kotecha had got a “bee in his bonnet” about Ms Parkin’s use of CCTV equipment and that he viewed information he had received from other residents about its use without any form of critical analysis. Further, the judge continued, those charged with the managerial responsibility for Mr Kotecha ought to have seen that he had got “the wrong end of the stick” and should have appreciated that his work required careful scrutiny and supervision, but that such scrutiny and supervision was not provided.

Mr Kotecha, however, instructed MHT’s solicitors, who wrote on 21 September 2007 to Ms P saying

Other residents in the neighbourhood have made complaints that you have been taking pictures of them and their children for no apparent reason. Our clients refute that the reason for you taking these photographs relates to your own security. These residents consider that their privacy is being infringed by your actions and our clients are investigating a possible breach of your tenancy with them. You have already been advised to move the cameras from the positions which they are installed but we understand that you have refused to do so.
So that our clients can assess the merits of the complaints against you as regards pictures being taken of third parties we request you disclose to us copies of all pictures you have taken using this equipment.”

And at the same time, the solicitors wrote to Mr W saying

We have been instructed by the above named who advise us of concerns that have been expressed to them about the use by you of CCTV cameras from within the premises at (xxxxx) that you rent from our client.
Other residents in the neighbourhood have made complaints that you have been taking pictures of them and their children for no apparent reason. These residents consider that their privacy is being infringed by your actions and our clients are investigating a possible breach of your tenancy with them. We are instructed to advise that our clients require you to remove the cameras from the positions where they are installed forthwith.
In the first instance our clients wish to assess the merits of the complaints against you as regards pictures being taken of third parties and we request that you disclose to us copies of all pictures you have taken using this equipment.”

Mr W didn’t have any CCTV equipment.

Mr Kotecha persisted, asking the police to attend Ms P’s property. The police officer saw the equipment and the views being recorded. Nothing came of this by way of police action.

Then

at the beginning of October 2007 the Association received, through Mr Kotecha, a petition and seven statements purportedly prepared by residents. The petition, apparently signed by around 80 persons, was headed:
“This petition is regarding Linda [sic] Parkin and Colin Worthington having cameras facing onto the children’s football field and also facing residents [sic] properties which we feel is invading peoples [sic] privacy. We would like Spirita to act on this immediately and take action to have these cameras removed with immediate effect.”

In fact, however, only a small proportion of the individuals who signed the petition were residents and the judge found that it had been produced on Sunday, 30 September probably at one of the junior football sessions.

As for the statements, these were produced by Mr Kotecha, after discussions with certain residents, in order to provide evidence for him to pass on to his managers. They contained complaints that Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin had installed CCTV cameras which were being used in a manner which amounted to an invasion of privacy; and that Mr Worthington had been seen taking photographs of children without any proper reason to do so and had created the impression that he was working for Spirita.

Mr Kotecha’s efforts resulted in a senior manager noting

“Lynda’s new home is only a couple of doors away from Colin Worthington’s home. Lynda and Colin now have 3 cameras each in their homes, and between the 6 cameras are filming a large area including several residents’ homes. We have received complaints from 5 households who feel that Lynda and Colin’s cameras are infringing their privacy. Formal statements are being taken from each of these households this week.
In addition, the local Beat Manager- PC Akeel visited Lynda’s home on Monday 24th September and reported back to us that Lynda’s cameras were filming the roundabout in the centre of Arkwright, and also the front door to the Spirita Arkwright office. We think that this is infringing the privacy of customers who may choose to visit the office. The Police have told us that they have had had numerous complaints from residents about the CCTV cameras, and while they cannot take action as the issue is a civil one, they are concerned and do want to see action taken to resolve the issues as soon as possible.
….
The advice from our solicitor [Martin Lee] is that, should the cameras not be removed and the footage not be supplied, we should seek an injunction against both Colin and Lynda to compel them to remove or resite the cameras.”

(A reminder. Mr W did not have CCTV installed. The police had not found that Ms P’s CCTV was invading anyone’s privacy.)

MHT then moved to a ‘case conference’. Recommendations from the chair of MHT’s Compliance Committee and another senior manager that there should be a visit to Ms P’s home to establish what the CCTV was actually recording were ignored, and no visit took place. In fact no investigative steps were taken.

Following the ‘case conference’, on 11 October 2007, MHT wrote to Mr W as follows:

Re: Tenancy Breaches
I am writing to you further to our recent correspondence about your CCTV system.
Despite your assurance that you do not have, and you have never had, CCTV cameras at your property we have evidence to suggest that cameras were in use at your property very recently.
In addition, Spirita have received a petition signed by some 80 Arkwright residents who feel that their privacy and that of their families is being invaded by your cameras.
This represents a serious tenancy breach and is causing considerable concern to members of the Arkwright community, Spirita and the Police.
On that basis I am writing to notify you that you will shortly be served with a Notice of Seeking Possession (NSP). In addition, Spirita intend to pursue legal action against you in this matter, and we will be taking legal advice from our solicitors on our next course of action.

A similar letter to Ms P stated

“We have evidence that your cameras are filming areas of Arkwright including the road, car park and field. This constitutes an invasion into the privacy of members of the public.”

As the Court of Appeal notes

Both of these letters were inaccurate in serious respects. In the case of the letter to Mr Worthington, he had never had CCTV cameras at his property; the petition had not been signed by 80 Arkwright residents; and he had committed no breach of his tenancy, let alone a serious one.

As for Ms Parkin, she did have a CCTV system but, as the judge found, it had been used only for the purposes of her security and not to invade the privacy of members of the public. In other respects, the letter suffered from the same deficiencies as that sent to Mr Worthington.

There were subsequent letters from MHT’s solicitors in November 2007, which, while admitting that Mr W didn’t have CCTV, persisted in an (erroneous) accusation that he had “on a number of occasions taken photographs with a digital camera of other residents, and particularly children of other residents, living in the locality of your home” and again threatening and injunction and possession proceedings. Ms P was also threatened with possession proceedings, on the (erroneous) basis that

Our clients have received a number of complaints from others living in the locality to the effect that they are being caused a nuisance and annoyance by virtue of the fact that your cameras are placed in a position that records images of people going about their lawful business in public areas.

Despite rebuttal letters from Chesterfield Law Centre, MHT’s solicitors were still writing to say that ‘a court date for an injunction was awaited’ in January 2008. It wasn’t until June 2008 that MHT said no proceeding would be issued

Mr W and Ms P brought a claim for damages for harassment.

At first instance trial, the Circuit Judge found that MHT’s conduct did amount to harassment.

The supposed support of the police for the approach to Ms P’s CCTV was undermined, as their

statements setting out what they saw were insufficient to support an allegation of breach of any tenancy condition although they did provide superficial support for Mr Kotecha. That was not the end of the story, however, for, as the judge went on to explain, an email emerged which PC Hussain had sent to his “mate” Mr Kotecha. In the judge’s words this was “a little triumphant in content” and stated that Ms Parkin was “on the back foot” and that he wanted to maintain momentum. The judge was satisfied that this betrayed a lack of professionalism and concluded that he was unable to place any weight on the evidence these officers had given.

When it came to MHT’s actions

“The case collated by Mr Kotecha was fundamentally flawed in that there was no true basis in fact for it and there was no justification for recommending, urging or taking action on that basis without the basic limited investigatory steps being taken, which it was acknowledged [later] should have been taken. Basic competence and fairness required the staff concerned to comply with the very wise, sensible advice and guidance, offered respectively, by [Mr Hewgill] and [Mr Lowthian]. The result is that, although it was suggested in evidence that on the 10th October there was a “very, very careful” examination of the facts to see what the appropriate action be taken, I am unable to find that any such careful examination took place. The result was that, without any sound factual basis, the [Association] sent out the threatening letters to which I have referred, which had the practical effect of threatening possession proceedings and loss of their home, injunction proceedings and all that would entail in relation to their behaviour, in circumstances where it was unwarranted and unjustified. Such conduct, viewed in context, in those circumstances, in my judgment, for those reasons, was oppressive and unacceptable. The truth of the matter is there is no evidence capable of supporting this behaviour. It goes beyond being merely unreasonable or disproportionate.”

This was not simply carelessness.

“In my judgment the cause of action is established. To exercise the powers of threats of possession and injunction proceedings requires care. The power should not be exercised in an oppressive manner nor in circumstances where it is simply unacceptable and wholly unjustified. I am satisfied that the [Association’s] conduct in embarking on such a course and making sustained threats to [Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin] involving the real risk of the loss of their home, not least in the context of the underlining insinuation of wrong focus on children constituted on the facts of this case harassment.

The requirements of the statutory provisions referred to at the outset of this judgment have been established. Two or more acts of harassment have been made out and the necessary course of conduct is proved. A reasonable person in possession of the information known or ought to have been known by [Association’s] relevant staff… would think, I find, that this course of conduct amounted to or involved harassment of [Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin]. This course of conduct took place and directly impacted upon [Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin] between no later than 11 October 2007 and 11 January 2008 and between 11 October 2007 and 16 June 2008 respectively (if not in fact from 21 and 24 September 2007 respectively) as appears from the [Association’s] and their solicitors’ letters threatening legal action in respect of alleged breach of tenancy conditions, injunctions and possession. If a responsible and balanced approach referred to earlier had been taken from the outset those threatening letters would not have been sent and [Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin] would not have been alarmed and distressed by the course of conduct which I find established.”

Damages were awarded.

MHT appealed to the Court of Appeal. The grounds of appeal were

1. that, in relation to each of the claimants, the judge erred in law in making a finding of harassment against the Association; and

2. that, in relation to each of the claimants, the judge erred in law in his conclusion that the pursuit by the Association of the course of conduct in question was not reasonable so that the defence in s.1(3)(c) of the 1997 Act was not made out.

These were basically the same ground.

First MHT argued that the Judge below had failed to identify the ‘two or more instances’ that were necessary to establish a course of conduct under Protection from Harassment Act 1997, instead just identifying ‘a period’. This got short shrift. There was ample instances, which the judge had identified clearly, even if not in the conclusion.

MHT then argued that the judge had failed to consider whether the conduct was of sufficient gravity to be prohibited by s.1(1) PfHA. That also got short shrift. “The judge expressly directed himself that he had to consider whether or not the conduct complained of crossed the boundary between that which was unattractive and even unreasonable, and that which was oppressive and unacceptable.”

Next MHT argued that the judge had failed to grapple with the requirement that he had “to be satisfied that a reasonable person in possession of the same information would have thought that the impugned conduct amounted to harassment”. Again, the Court of Appeal was unimpressed:

It is true to say that the judge did not find that the Association knew that its conduct amounted to harassment. Nor did he make a finding that the Association acted maliciously. However, the judge did find that Mr Kotecha’s approach was flawed and hopelessly careless, and that the analysis of his materials and presentation by Ms Thomas, Ms Watson and Ms Cartledge was utterly inadequate and uncritical. As a result the letters of 11 October and 5 November 2007 were sent out on a wholly incorrect and unjustified basis. It was in these circumstances that the judge found at [80] that a reasonable person in possession of the information which the Association’s staff knew or ought to have known would have thought that the course of conduct on which the Association had embarked amounted to or involved harassment of Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin. The judge understood the requirements imposed by the 1997 Act, and he asked himself and answered the correct questions.

Lastly, MHT argued that the judge failed properly to analyse the critical letters individually and as a whole and failed to take into account relevant matters. In particular:

the approach adopted by the Association was flawed and careless but argued that the judge was also bound to take into account the following further matters: the Association was in a difficult position because it had received a series of complaints, over time, from neighbouring residents who stated that their privacy was being infringed by the posting of photographs of perceived anti-social behaviour on Mr Worthington’s website and by the presence and positioning of CCTV cameras in the claimants’ properties. These complaints, received over a number of months from March to early October 2007, included the petition signed by 80 individuals. Further, Ms Thomas had personally viewed the website and noted that photographs existed of alleged anti-social behaviour which appeared to have been taken by Mr Worthington. Moreover, the Association properly instructed its solicitors to write letters to each of the claimants in September 2007, which they did, but no response to them was ever received. The Association was also in receipt of corroborative evidence of the Police officers who had physically inspected Ms Parkin’s property in September 2007 and had seen her CCTV cameras first-hand. The Association also sought independent legal advice from its solicitors, Martin Lee, on the strength of its case against each claimant, and it provided to Martin Lee the evidence that it had. Martin Lee then gave legal advice in their letter of 4 October 2007. Importantly, said Mr Bhose, Martin Lee did not advise the Association against taking any action or that there were any failings in its preparation which needed to be rectified before warning letters could be sent. To the contrary, their advice was favourable. The Association then convened the case review meeting on the 10 October 2007, attended by senior management and Police officers, to determine what action to take against the claimants. Acting on the decision taken at that meeting, the Association wrote a reasoned and moderate letter to each claimant on 11 October 2007. These letters did contain threats of legal action but the threats were reasonable and unexceptional and of a kind made by owners of social housing every day of the week as part of their efforts to protect their wider body of tenants. The Association then instructed Martin Lee to correspond on its behalf with the claimants’ legal advisors, which they did. Further, Martin Lee’s letters were clear, moderate and professional throughout. In particular, said Mr Bhose, Martin Lee put forward the Association’s case in a reasoned, measured, and dispassionate way and responded substantively to all the points taken by and on behalf of the claimants.

In short, MHT were behaving responsibly in view of all the complaints and they had legal advice, and the police supported them. And anyway, this is just the kind of thing that social landlords do day to day.

The Court of Appeal took this apart, point by point.

As long term tenants, any threat of eviction was likely to cause particular anxiety.

MHT had been aware at all times of the Claimants’ concerns about ASB and had given Ms P permission to install CCTV. Ms P’s installation and the use of it had been inspected several times by MHT previously.

Mr Kotecha had decided, on no evidence, that the CCTV must be removed and had instructed MHT’s solicitors to write in those terms in September 2007. That was due to Mr Kotecha’s carelessness or incompetence.

The judge was justified in putting no weight on the police statements, for the reasons above.

The ‘Case Review Note’:

There are, as it seems to be, a number of difficulties with this note, however. First, it was or ought to have been perfectly clear that Mr Worthington never had CCTV cameras in his home. Second, the note describes the subject matter of the statements being produced by Mr Kotecha in light of his discussions with residents and having listened to vague stories without any critical enquiry or knowledge of the history of the matter. Third, the report of PC Hussain must be considered in light of my observations in the immediately preceding paragraph of this judgment. And fourth, the advice given by Martin Lee was given on the basis of the instructions they had been given by Mr Kotecha. In light of all of these matters I have no doubt that this file note provides no proper foundation for the actions of the Association which followed.

Martin Lee’s advice was based solely on the ‘evidence’ that they had been provided by Mr Kotecha.

The Case Conference ignored advice from within MHT to inspect and investigate, instead deciding to press on, leading to the letters to Mr W and Ms P. The letters were wrong.

In particular, they were wrong to say that 80 Arkwright residents had signed a petition for only a small proportion of the signatories in fact lived on the estate and the signatures had been procured at a football practice; made reference to “the Police”, when nothing seen by the Police provided any basis for a suggestion that either of the claimants had done anything improper; accused each of the claimants of a “serious tenancy breach” when they had not breached the terms of their tenancies at all and the allegation had no foundation; and asserted that they were going to be served with notices of the Association’s intention to seek possession of their respective homes. These letters had no proper basis and clearly had the potential to cause Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin alarm and personal distress as the Association ought to have known.

MHT could not rely on its own failure to investigate, or that it ignored facts that it knew, or ought to have known, such as Mr W never having CCTV, Ms P’s being properly used, and Mr W’s website and images being viewable.

The threats in the letters of 11 October 2007 were followed by further threats, again alleging breach of tenancy and threatening proceedings on erroneous grounds. These cause anxiety and distress.

The allegation that Mr W had recorded children in the vicinity, again made in letters from MHT’s solicitors, including in December 2007, and the statement in a January 2008 email that MHT had applied for an injunction and was awaiting a court date, were both wholly incorrect.

Similarly, there were threats of proceedings against Ms P on wholly incorrect grounds.

In all these circumstances Mr Davy submits and I accept that a reasonable person would think that the Association’s actions would cause alarm and distress to Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin. I reject the submission that the letters in issue were unexceptional and of a kind regularly sent by owners of social housing as part of their efforts to protect their wider body of tenants. Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin were threatened with possession proceedings and accused of anti-social behaviour and taking inappropriate images of children. Such proceedings, if successful, would have meant they would have to seek accommodation with a different housing association. Yet the Association issued these threats without taking the most basic steps to ensure that they had a proper foundation. They were in fact totally unjustified. I am satisfied the judge had ample material before him upon which to find that the conduct complained of crossed the boundary and was oppressive and unacceptable, and that it amounted to harassment.

Appeal dismissed.

Comment

Oh my.

I’ve mentioned before that tenant advisors and lawyers frequently hear complaints from clients that their housing officer is out to get them, and our usual (and usually accurate) response is that it isn’t personal – they treat everyone badly. But that previous mention was also in the context of a case where the housing officers had behaved awfully, and I said that advisors and lawyers should remain alert to this.

Now this case, where an over zealous ‘estate manager’, Mr Kotecha, took a ‘side’ immediately and proceeded to drum up ‘evidence’ against tenants, while wholly failing to properly investigate, and where MHT’s management and oversight failed utterly, even despite sage internal warnings from experienced senior people.

The Court of Appeal were quite right to dismiss the argument that ‘this is just the kind of thing that housing associations do in these circumstances, routine, even’. These were repeated threats of proceedings and potential eviction based upon no actual evidence whatsoever.

Landlords should take note of this. Excuses of ‘carelessness’ and ‘well we had to do something’ will not necessarily fly. Landlords need to acknowledge that their staff’s ‘careless’ or ‘well intentioned but wrong’ actions can be oppressive, causing distress. And it will not necessarily get them off the hook to say that they were relying on legal advice, where that legal advice was predicated on the inaccurate, one sided and careless information provided to the lawyers.

For landlord’s lawyers, there is also a warning – perhaps the ‘evidence’ coming from the client should be examined for the extent of investigation involved.

And for those acting for tenants, yes, sometimes the housing officers really are out to get the tenants, on wholly spurious grounds, not just being careless.

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 assured-tenancy, Housing law - All, Unlawful eviction and harassment.

36 Comments

  1. Your comments about housing officers are really unpleasant and hugely off the mark. Most housing officers care about their tenants and are deeply committed to improving their communities. Often getting lots of grief along the way, and paid a lot less than lawyers.

    • Geoff. I have no problem in acknowledging that there are plenty of good housing officers. However, an attitude that says they are all great and there are no problems is exactly what led to this case.

      Unless landlord are willing to acknowledge and address poor practice – and in some instances, terrible behaviour – then it will continue. My anecdotal experience, of a lot of housing association and council landlords, is that this simply doesn’t register as an issue with them.

      There is a lot of bad practice. This needs to be acknowledged. (As, of course do issues of workload etc.)

    • I was a housing officer for many years. The behaviour of the officer in this case was astonishingly unprofessional.

      What’s also concerning is that such obvious bad practice wasn’t dealt with quickly and firmly by his line management.

      With respect, if you are prepared to defend the actions of the HA here, I hope that you do not work in social housing.

  2. I think the HA were totally wrong to appeal and it just advertised their incompetence in this matter.

    One thing that sprung to mind was the right to film where there is no expectation of privacy, the roundabout in the centre of Arkwright, and also the front door to the Spirita Arkwright office do not seem to me lile places where you can expect privacy. Anyone standing outside the Spirita Arkwright office could see who was coming and going. Perhaps Mr Kotecha objected because it might be evidence of his timekeeping or whatever.

    I concur with you Giles about Housing Officers, some of them act in a very hostile manner, mind you they have to deal with some difficult situations. What surprises me in this case is that it seems that the victims of ASB were the ones being blamed.

    I have the utmost respect for Housing Officers, but Geoff, as soon as you complain about how much people are paid you lose any authority for your argument, you are capable of gaining education and becoming a lawyer, do not begrudge others because you did not make the effort. I do appreciate it is a tough job and probably not appreciated.

    However, the author of this blog has helped a lot of people who could not afford legal services or get access to legal aid, one day it might be you.

  3. I’m really pleased at this ruling. Harassment of tenants by social landlords, while not pervasive, is not uncommon by any means. In my opinion it is incredibly difficult to identify and challenge because it is carried out under the guise of policy and procedure. Tenants can find themselves living in a perpetually hopeless situation,and I wonder how often these scenarios lead to unnecessary legal action and ultimately the loss of a home?

  4. Hi, I think the point is, the blog post generalised excessively based on one case. Given there are 4m social housing properties in the country, id be surprised if there werent numerous examples of poor practice..as could have be said about lawyers, doctors and nurses etc.

    Maybe if lawyers do approach housing officers in such a condescending manner when dealing with cases, it’s unsurprising they get an off hand response. Fortunately, organisations like Shelter now take a more enlightened, partnership approach towards finding positive solutions with housing providers, rather than seeking conflict..

    • Oh Geoff, why are you taking this so personally?

      There are plenty of good housing officers. There are also a large number who behave badly, carelessly, or, as in this case (and there are other cases, of course) oppressively.

      I certainly didn’t generalise excessively from one case. If I did that, I would be accusing all housing officers of harassment. However, experience of poor, careless, badly behaving housing officers is not unusual. I wish that it were. If you are so defensive and unwilling to face facts as to call that being ‘condescending’, it does look rather like an example of housing officers being unable to accept criticism and reacting badly, dismissively and even aggressively to any suggestion that they might be mistaken. And that is something I hear from clients very often…

      Any Shelter solicitor would have had the same experience, I can assure you.

  5. I am delighted to see that ruling has been highlighted. There appears to be a disconnect within this HA and hopefully the organisation will change from within. Clearly some people were aware of best practise. Pity it wasn’t filtered through whole structure.

    Quite right to highlight that there are some good housing officers. Fortunate to meet a couple myself from Lambeth Council back in 1995, when they were based on Somerleyton Road, Brixton, SW9 – Lambeth.

    • Last comment (honest lol, even if published)..

      I know the legal system works on an adversarial basis, but this post was unduly off-hand and is very condescending. Perhaps when you exist in that culture it isn’t apparent or seems normal. Can assure you that in a housing setting, having to work in partnership with other agencies you may think should be doing more, you wouldn’t progress far with a similar approach. Encouragement and engagement works far better…

      I suppose it depends who you deal with though. If somewhere still has the 1990s culture of some London councils when i started in housing then i get it..very few I come across still do though.

      Despite being condescending and annoying me in this instance, this is a useful site though. So you have my permission to carry on..albeit I hope with the occasional nod to the positive work those at the coal face of the housing crisis carry out :-)

    • Geoff

      The mere existence of a large part of my job goes to disprove your blanket claim, I’m afraid. By the time things get to us, the housing officers and landlord shave already failed, and legal action is the necessary last resort. Naturally, these means we don’t encounter good housing officers and landlords very often. But it also means that there is no shortage of the opposite,

      It isn’t our job to support, encourage or cuddle you. Our job is to defend our clients’ interests where housing officers and landlords have failed to live up to their legal obligations and duties. If they can’t even manage that, I’m not going to ‘encourage’ them to do the right thing while my client suffers.

      I’m sorry Geoff, but I find your air of smugness and entitlement quite remarkable. I really don’t care whether you get to think of yourselves as good people or not. My concern is your obligations and duties to my clients. I realise you may not often encounter a view outside of a kind of mutual congratulation circle, but there we are. If your hurt feelings are your priority over acknowledging and addressing failings by housing officers and landlords, I rather think you may be a bit of the problem.

  6. Funny..your comments to me prove my point..arrogant, condescending and in a little legal world of back slapping and tutting chums. Devoid from the reality of delivering real services in real life that change people’s lives for the better in very trying circumstances. To be honest, I don’t think you really have a clue.

    Real change relies upon upon pragmatism, partnership working, give and take and collaboration. Not, grandstanding and self righteousness…however eloquent…

    • Geoff

      I’m not the one wanting to be loved.

      Real change is your problem. It is not my responsibility. My job is to make sure my clients aren’t disadvantaged, or suffer, because of your failure to actually sort things out. Your self absorption, to the point that you think it is my job to make things right for you, is, well…

  7. “This post was unduly off-hand and very condescending.” You’ve got to be kidding!!! Do you work for Metropolitan Housing Trust Geoff?

    The reason why I ask – is that having gone back to look at the original judgement in full and then reread the article presented on this site several times, have come to completely different conclusions. It is balanced, honest and offers refreshing advice. Unlike your somewhat sarcastic response, which simply serves to belittle, ridicule and insult.

    For my part, have sadly had to deal with Metropolitan Housing Trust for years and sympathise with how fellow residents in case highlighted were treated. Although important to stress, there have been moments of positive action and results.

    Equally fair to state, encountered fair share of incompetent housing officers. And yes, they definitely do exist.

  8. I’m sorry GP, your comment at 10.17 above sums it up for me..’real change is your problem. It is not my responsibility’.

    Very easy to pontificate, have no solutions and waste resources that could be spent on genuine housing activity.

    Just a shame you can’t understand that legal games, point scoring and giving attitude achieve very little. Pooling resources and generating housing options for people does..but doesn’t attract legal funding :-(

  9. And that is why I conclude you loose the morale high ground Geoff because if HAs like the one above actually treated all its residents fairly, there would be no need to go down legal route in the first place.
    I don’t think it is anything to do with “legal games, point scoring and attitude.” Your contribution simply shows how out of touch some folk are. Accept that we might not all be the same and as such different opinions emerge.

    • The problem is that the post suggests that housing officers are generally ‘out to get their tenants’. ‘Our usual, and usually accurate view, is that they aren’t out to get you, they treat everyone badly’

      It so far from the mark it is untrue. From arranging activities for kids in the half term, to funding counselling, setting up food cooperatives etc..housing officers are not an oppressive force. This guy seems to have been a dick, but it is not something you can generalise.

      Not wanting to labour the point, but middle class lawyers, who have no grasp on what real life is about, making pompous, sarcastic comments achieve nothing at all.

  10. Geoff, forgive me if I misunderstand your point, but as you mentioned legal funding, you make it sound as though legal funding is available on the whim of any tenant who doesn’t agree with their HAs. It’s not. Tenants are in a position of almost complete powerlessness against harassment by social landlords. That’s why this case is noteworthy as MHT were undeterrable and clearly forgot the art of subtle intimidation which is how most HAs approach it. (of course I should say this without generalising, but this has been my observation in the majority of cases where problems of this nature arise)
    The advice sector is so stretched it’s not as though they’re waiting around like taxis outside a train station looking for every opportunity, no matter how tenuous, to get one over on the landlords. HAs on the other hand usually have a solicitor at the ready without the HA having the worry of ‘legal funding’
    So the ‘pooling of resources to generate housing options’ seems like a really bizarre comparison to make in this context. What does this even mean?

    • I kind of mean local authorities and third sector collaborating on housing first and shared accommodation approaches, rather than locking horns in expensive litigation. Statutory and charitable funding coming together to create options rather than just aggro.

  11. The more I read of your contributions Geoff, along with noting link posted here (firm HA may have used in the past) and having numerous conversations with fellow residents, friends and political colleagues since judgement came out, the more certain I am that Conservative ministers need to get to grips with the widespread problems suffered by people living in social housing. Sadly, however painful it must seem to accept – the problem with ‘not so efficient’ housing officers is more widespread than you think.

    https://shepwayvox.org/2018/05/27/the-long-read-p-r-installation-company-ltd/?cn-reloaded=1

    So grateful Appeal was rejected.

    • Well I don’t know if ‘they treat everyone badly’ refers to housing officers per se, or the ones who feature in complaints. So I’m not sure there’s any generalisation there.

      I applaud any lawyer, middle, working or aristocratic class who will address the power imbalance of which tenants, social or private, are at the weak end.

      The social inclusion approach you mention (activities etc) is great, and the housing first philosophy is the correct approach upon which to formulate housing policy, but this case addresses something very specific. Harassment, eviction etc.

      In my opinion, it comes down to the fact that landlords via their housing officers can abuse their position of power. Most of the time they don’t even realise that they are doing it, because it is written into their processes, but often even the law seems to support it or is silent enough. Quite often though, it’s a power trip. Many housing officers, indeed many lawyers and advisers too, don’t have the broad perspective to understand this imbalance, much less care about changing it.

  12. Stand corrected. Should not make what appears to be a sweeping generalisation. Apologies. There is bound to be evidence of good practise floating around.

    Agree – if a broader perspective existed – it would be better for all. IWould be keen to go and talk to Housing Ministers, to find out what could be done. Your contribution is thought provoking- thanks Jon.

  13. Kelly, I wasn’t correcting you on any points, it might be because I only had the option to ‘Reply’ on your comment, but no option for this on Geoff’s. Sorry if you thought I was taking issue:/

    I tend to agree with most that there was no generalisation and demonisation of housing officers in the article.

  14. Hi Jon, did not see your comments as correcting. In fact, very grateful ruling happened and there was subsequent opportunity to comment on a fair commentary, which followed. There is much that can be learned and article certainly was not “arrogant.”

    Yesterday, had the opportunity to discuss excellent link with co author of the Peoples Audit – Lambeth. We both have a connection to Metropolitan Housing Trust and I agreed with him that at times it was necessary to threaten get in contact with the director. This was not out of malice but usually sheer frustration.

    Hopefully processes can be changed and improved within HA in general.

    I totally agree – no demonisation of housing officers occurred in this excellent article. There has been an open and transparent discussion. Thank you.

  15. Giles your comment that Housing Officers ‘treat everyone badly’ is both unhelpful and disrespectful to people who by and large are committed to helping residents.

    Also to note, this case is over 10 years old, and undoubtedly Housing Officers are getting far more support and training now.

    The narrative of a big bad social landlord needs to change, considering the fact that social landlords are a major source of housing for socially disadvantaged.

    • Aisha – the post makes clear that was in response to clients complaining about poor treatment by housing officers. A lot of my clients complain about poor treatment by housing officers. Given the situations in which my clients come to me, it is rather hard to argue that they haven’t been treated poorly.

      Of course, there may well be lots of wonderful housing officers with happy and satisfied tenants. Pretty much by definition, I am not going to meet them. I applaud them anyway. However, given the numbers of people who approach my firm alone, (and the conduct of housing officers we see during cases and on duty scheme), I can assure you that there are plenty of badly or poorly behaved ones.

      The refusal of some in the sector to acknowledge that this is the case, and actually deal with it, is undoubtedly a problem for the sector’s reputation, let alone the impact on their tenants.

      I’m afraid that social landlords don’t get to wave away bad and on occasion unlawful conduct by their officers simply on the basis that they are going a good thing overall by housing the “socially disadvantaged” (as you put it, with an air of the Victorian philanthropist). ‘Good intentions’ do not excuse bad or unlawful conduct. I am disappointed that you think that they do.

  16. Totally disagree with your analysis Aisha. The commentary is balanced and fair Giles. Very thought provoking and it has been a pleasure to share with other residents, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Will continue doing so.
    Once again, thought the Appeal judgement was correct.

  17. PS Only yesterday, a fellow resident contacted me, stating he did not want to deal with housing officer as he found her so unhelpful and he wanted me to be present as he felt safer. Thankfully, he told her so in person and said he wanted to deal with her manager instead in future. Now why is that?

    Processes need to change especially how housing officers are trained in interacting with residents.

  18. Whatever.. Geoff. You obviously know what your talking about – Not. Had you seen the cases I have been involved in over the years – regarding particular HA highlighted in article, you would understand. Your intolerance speaks volumes and that’s okay. It still does not take away from an excellent commentary, where advice provided.

  19. Ah the good old days of dealing with ASB and neighbour disputes… Thank God I don’t have to do this any more.

    It’s easy for a Housing Officer to take sides in any neighbour dispute but it’s their job to stay impartial and to ensure that their policies and procedures are adhered to. I know fine well what it’s like to be confronted with an obnoxious resident who is not well liked by other residents. I’ve had to deal with serial complainers who complain about everything their neighbour does. I’ve had residents make stuff up to try to make issues seem more serious. Essentially, if a person is capable of making a complaint seem spurious, I’ve seen some version of it. The only way a Housing Officer can do their job properly is to follow the procedures.

    If Housing Officers take short cuts, don’t follow evidence and bow to external pressures because they don’t like particular residents, this is the kind of thing that can happen.

  20. I spent many years being a housing officer and was genuinely dedicated towards improving communities and opportunities for tenants whilst providing good service provision. After over 10 years in the job I eventually quit as I became ground down by colleagues and managers who were only focussed on rent collection by any means necessary and a culture of expecting tenants to be subservient and grateful. ASB cases repeatedly saw victims moved or being accused of being oversensitive, or the best one…. being told that it is simply a “clash of lifestyle”. It was very rare that the frequent ASB of some of the more notorious families was even challenged, and in my time I do not remember one eviction being enforced on ASB grounds (and yes make no mistake there was frequent and serious ASB going occurring on the estates daily!)

    There are great housing officers but in the current political climate they are becoming fewer in numbers as the agenda moves further in the direction of enforcement and denial of tenancy rights, and the most vulnerable residents are rarely given adequate support (particularly since the demise of floating support, the removal of supporting people funding/ring-fence, huge reduction in legal aid funding/access, and huge reduction of the independent charity sector provision).

    I had to leave the job as I genuinely felt to remain in post would mean me being part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I’m very happy, dedicated and enthusiastic now I’m running a charity providing advocacy services for disabled clients, ensuring they have some equity of power and way to challenge the types of “professional” behaviour I was repeatedly appalled by when I was a housing officer.

    • Hi Eddie,

      We definitely had evictions due to ASB but they were few and far between. Not so much because of the Housing Officers or their managers but because in order to secure an eviction for ASB, we had to put together extremely strong cases. Our ASB Team were often in the local press for taking actions against perpetrators of ASB but it was only the people they could build open and shut cases against that ended in eviction.

      The vast majority of cases would end when the complaints stopped or one party moved. It was extremely frustrating but as Officers, all we could do was follow the escalation process and refer for legal action once triggers were met. I certainly met my fair share of “over sensitive” residents (like the man who called the police on his neighbour for vacuuming before she went to work), but I shared your frustration of being unable to help all the genuine victims of ASB. There were people who I just felt so sorry for.

      The majority of Housing Officers I worked with were good people and kept to the process but I can see how easy it would be for an Officer to cause mayhem like this by taking a dislike to particular residents and then failing to follow procedure. What’s worrying in this case is that the housing provider held a case conference and did absolutely nothing despite making very sensible recommendations for further investigation. The fact they appealed the decision is disgraceful.

  21. A brilliant report, thank goodness someone has lifted the lid off the gungho
    practices adopted by some officials. Here it was about harrassment but whilst
    deeply disturbing for the households, expensive for the Council both in officer time plus legal costs. Atleast there was no finacial gain for the Council!
    However Housing Benefits investigations also have all the same effects BUT WITH
    ONE KEY DIFFERENCE – Reward for action against the customer.
    Yes! There are people who should not be receiving housing benefits and when sanctioned in minutes, charged with colossal ‘fines’. If done legally plus correctly
    then the tenant customer on Housing Benefit – disserved all they get sanctioned.
    However the system is so easy to effect sanctions, so difficult to contest, plus profitable for the Council or perhaps officer also – Few will check or challenge. There is most likely no money in the sector for a lawyer since few ‘clients’ will have funds especially after being sanctioned at the ‘drop of a hat!’
    Talking of money 145% reward goes to the Council for ‘finding a housing benefit
    ‘suspect client’ – Even if the case is later successfully challenged , the payback to Government only goes back to the Treasury the following April. One suspects
    challenges are rare.
    Yes! If a housing benefit client should not be receiving money. Then sanctions are correct. But this sanction application is wide open to abuse. Finally it is accepted that the majority of housing benefit officers in Councils are professional .
    But HB controls plus checks appear to be less than for parking tickets, with these atleast more than ten minutes!

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