LAW REPORT: Impecuniosity irrelevant to rent benefit

LAW REPORT 28 February 1996

Regina v Waltham Forest London Borough Council, ex parte Holder and another; Queen's Bench Division (Mr Justice Brooke); 9 February 1996

A housing authority, when fixing a claimant's eligible housing benefit by reference to suitable alternative accommodation, was entitled to ignore the fact that such accommodation was not financially available to a claimant who was unable to pay the deposit which was usually required.

Mr Justice Brooke dismissed applications by Michelle Holder and Novia Samuels for judicial review of the decision of the council's housing benefit review board that their housing benefit entitlement was half the rent payable at their accommodation.

The applicants, who had no jobs and claimed income support, looked for accommodation but found that most landlords required a deposit and/or rent in advance which they were unable to pay. Eventually they found bed-and-breakfast accommodation sharing a double room for pounds 84 each per week. They applied to the council for housing benefit. Their housing benefit was assessed as pounds 42 each per week following the rent officer's valuation.

They applied to a housing benefit review board, contending that the rent of pounds 84 was not unreasonably high because there was no other suitable alternative accommodation as they were unable to pay deposits and many landlords were reluctant to let to people on income support.

The housing benefit review board declined to take into account considerations relating to the applicants' impecuniosity, decided there was available cheaper suitable alternative accommodation and that the council's decision was in accordance with regulation 11(2)(c) of the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987, which allows the housing authority who considers that the rent is unreasonably high in comparison with the rent payable in suitable alternative accommodation elsewhere to reduce the claimant's eligible rent by such amount as it considers appropriate.

Richard Drabble QC and Nathalie Lieven (T.V. Edwards) for the applicants; Noah Weiniger (Borough Solicitor) for the council.

Mr Justice Brooke said that regulation 11(3) which dealt with vulnerable persons introduced the concept that suitable cheaper alternative accommodation must be "available", so that accommodation was not regarded as available if there was little or no possiblity of the claimant being able to obtain it, for example if it could only be obtained on payment of a large deposit which the claimant did not possess.

That concept of availability was not present in regulation 11(2). The authority's attention was focused primarily on a comparison between the accommodation occupied by the claimant and the relevant features of "suitable alternative accommodation". It was to have regard to the size and rent of suitable alternative accommodation.

Paragraph 11(6)(a) identified two matters of which the authority must take account in deciding what was suitable alternative accommodation. The first was the nature of the accommodation and facilities having regard to the age and state of health of the claimant and any members of his fam-ily. Nothing was said about the claimant's pecuniosity or impecuniosity.

The second focused on the terms of the letting. The authority must be satisfied that accommodation with a comparable level of security of tenure did exist.

There was nothing in regulation 11(2) or 11(6)(a) to suggest that, in the ordinary case to which regulation 11(3) did not apply, the authority must go further and consider whether the alternative accommodation was financially available before it could be regarded as suitable.

It would have been only too easy for the Secretary of State to introduce a test that alternative accommodation must be financially available to any applicant. The Secretary of State had chosen, however, not to go down that route in the present context.

An authority, when making the necessary comparison with suitable alternative accommodation, need not concern itself with any financial consideration, other than the question of rent, which might make parts of the relevant property market wholly or relatively inaccessible to applicants. If satisfied that there was an ascertainable market rent and an active market, then the authority was entitled to leave the applicants to take their chance of finding accommodation in that market. The applications were dismissed.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own