The Court of Appeal has driven a coach and horses through the tenant deposit scheme

The following letter from our Chief Executive, Joanna Kennedy, was published in the most recent issue of The Law Gazzette:

Dear Sir,

The Court of Appeal has driven a coach and horses through the tenant deposit scheme inserted into  the 2004 Housing Act to protect tenants against the widespread abuse by landlords of the rental deposit system. This provision which required landlords to keep deposits with a third party was designed to prevent landlords from, effectively, robbing tenants. The loss of this protection can have a devastating impact on low income or vulnerable tenants in the current climate.

I was a solicitor for over  30 years and now run an charity which helps those on low incomes negotiate the civil justice system. We have recently had a proliferation of very vulnerable clients who are either on the brink of homelessness or forced to remain in substandard conditions because of their inability to recover their deposits. One mother , living on benefits , in desperation at the appalling conditions in her flat  , moved ,borrowing the money for a deposit on a new property. Her landlord would not repay the deposit so we helped her to issue proceedings for recovery . Just before trial the landlord repaid the deposit and issued a counterclaim for several times the value of the deposit for damages for  spurious allegations of disrepair. The recent cases mean that the landlord will suffer no punishment for having forced this vulnerable tenant into the stress and anxiety of court proceedings and has deprived  her of the opportunity to have any issue of disrepair dealt with by the alternative dispute resolution procedure set up by the scheme .

This is yet another example of the odds being stacked against the disadvantaged at a time when the devastating cuts to the whole advice sector means that there will be very little support available to help them find redress,

The Court of Appeal will of course say that they were only interpreting a poorly worded statute. However the decisions suggest they were influenced by the punitive effect of the penalties in the scheme  on non compliant landlords so they chose  to let  landlords off scot free whatever the impact on tenants.

Shelter have tried to persuade the government to amend the legislation to restore the  tenant’s protection with no success.  The whole saga is yet another  example of how our current legal system and its funding favours the more powerful over the less.

Joanna Kennedy

Chief Executive

Z2K

Saved from Eviction

We helped a 20 year old who faced possession proceedings from her Housing Association landlord on the grounds of anti-social behaviour based on complaints about  loud music and the occasional party  from some of the other tenants in the block in which she lived all of whom were elderly. She was the youngest person there by about 50 years.

After a preliminary hearing at which the Housing Association insisted they intended to go to trial  to evict her we persuaded them to drop the case and to put the tenant on the transfer list even though she was in rent arrears. Continue reading

Exorbitant electricity bill resolved

A single mother living on benefit moved her electricity supplier in the hope of reducing her bills. She also moved the beds into the living room so as to reduce her heat and light consumption. In January 2009 she suddenly received a chasing letter for bill for almost £300. She had never received the earlier bill and whilst she was still shell shocked by the amount she was told by her supplier that they were sending engineers to install a pre-payment meter to recoup the arrears.

She was referred to Z2k by Westminster Befriend a family. We ensured that the threat of a prepayment meter was withdrawn and when we challenged the bill her supplier confirmed that the correct amount was the appropriate and manageable £63.00.

Family saved from homelessness

A family with six children who had been declared intentionally homeless were living in overcrowded conditions with family members and then in a hostel, hours and three bus journeys away from the children’s schools. After nine months of Z2K battling with housing authorities and social services, they are now in a four-bedroomed flat near the schools. Several times along the way they were hours from being evicted onto the streets.

Their story has been made into a short film made by iceandfire for Trust for London’s London Poverty Profile Website.

All based on testimony from real people experiencing poverty in London.
Directed by Charlotte George, Cinematography by Jake Corbett, First AD Ben Chessell, Production Assistant Lil Binham. John played by William Hope, Karen played by Nicky Goldie.