Law Report: Landlord cannot appeal on benefit: R v Stoke City Council, ex parte Highgate Projects. R v Birmingham City Council, ex parte Connolly and another - Queen's Bench Divisional Court (Lord Justice Henry and Mr Justice Mitchell: 25 March 1994.

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Although housing benefit was, in some circumstances, paid directly to a landlord on behalf of the claimant tenant, the landlord was not a 'person affected by' the local authority's assessment of the amount of that benefit so as to entitle him to appeal against it.

The Queen's Bench Divisional Court dismissed two applications for judicial review of decisions by housing benefit review boards, rejecting appeals by landlords against assessments of housing benefit paid directly to them on behalf of their tenants.

Ian Wise (Tyndallwoods & Millichip, Birmingham) for the applicant Highgate Projects; Timothy Straker (Sharpe Pritchard, for the City Solicitor) for Stoke City Council; Lorna Findlay (Morris Andrews & Co, Birmingham) for the applicants Connolly and Millard; Richard Drabble (DSS Solicitor) for the DSS and (City Solicitor) for Birmingham City Council.

LORD JUSTICE HENRY said the basic rule was that payment of housing benefit was to the claimant, either the tenant or to someone else on his behalf. But payment in certain circumstances was made directly to the landlord (see Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987 (SI No 1971) regs 93 and 94).

A determination of benefit was made in the first instance by the appropriate authority (reg 76(1)). Any person 'affected by' the determination had to be notified in writing (reg 77). Anyone thus notified could request reasons for the determination, in response to which the authority must review the determination (reg 79). After that, the claimant could seek a further, or 'external' review by the review board (reg 81). Thus, the trigger entitling a person to apply for an internal or external review was notification of the original or any revised decision.

In the Birmingham case, the applicants, Mr Connelly and Mr Millard, owned houses in which they let bed-sits to three separate tenants in 1991. The tenants consented to their housing benefit being paid direct to the landlord under reg 94.

In December 1991, the city council assessed the benefit at pounds 99.99 in two cases and pounds 67.41 in the third. The landlords sought a review of the assessments under reg 79(2).

In his Lordship's judgment, the landlords were not entitled to such a review because, although as 'persons affected' within reg 77, they required to be notified of the council's decision, the only determination made in relation to them was limited to the fact that they were to be paid direct.

The regulations did not contemplate a landlord appealing on matters of the eligible rent, or the amount paid by way of housing benefit. Those were matters affecting the rights of the claimant tenant, but not the rights of his landlord. Under the scheme, the landlord's right to recover the contractual rent he had agreed with the tenant was unaffected.

Although the landlords were 'persons affected' by the determination in respect of whether they were paid direct, they were not affected by the quantum of the benefit allowed. Nor did they have sufficient interest to intervene by way of judicial review.

In the Stoke case, the applicants, Highgate Projects, ran hostels for young offenders. Inmates signed an authority enabling the project to collect housing benefit on their behalf. The council assessed benefit at between pounds 18.50 and pounds 58 per week.

The project sought a review. The board declined to alter the council's decision as they were not satisfied the charge made for each occupant could properly be described as 'rent', since it included an element of staff expenses.

In his Lordship's judgment, the project, unlike a private landlord, was entitled to seek a review, first because it was doing so as the agent of the inmates, who had signed documents authorising it to do so, and, second, because the project was expected to provide services such as counselling which cost money and it was therefore 'affected by' the amount of benefit in a way quite different to private landlords.

But his Lordship agreed with the board's reasons for dismissing the application. It was for the project to satisfy the board that its management costs were 'eligible' under the regulations.