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.

Benefit Sanction Overturned

A single mother had her benefits sanctioned for three weeks at £20 per week. Her appeal was rejected and she subsequently lodged a complaint about losing the appeal which was acknowledged by DWP but never dealth with. She later found us via the internet and saw we were considering sanctions.

The time limit for challenging an appeal is usually one month but nine months has passed when she came to see us. We proceeded to challenge the scantion and the DWP reversed the sanction because of clear administrative failure which they could not justify, even though it was prima facie out of time.

She expressed her gratefulness “The money returned was used to buy school uniform and shoes, for which was a great relief. Thank you Z2K.”

Payment plan accepted and eviction averted

The following case involving our client, ‘Mr A’, shows the benefit of Z2K’s intensive support. In this case our intern Natalie Foster was able to avert eviction and probable homelessness.

Mr A was referred to us from Westminster CAB.

He is single with no children and recently lost his job. He is a council tenant and has been at his current address for 19 years. He is now in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

Having previously worked on a contract basis, Mr A has had many gaps in his employment and a Court Order was made in 2003 for payment of £876 for rent arrears. However, due to Mr A unstable employment arrangements, the arrears rose to £1,820 in January 2011 and his landlord successfully applied to the Court to re-open the old Order and get permission to issue a warrant of possession.

As a council tenant facing eviction due to rent arrears, Mr A would have been treated as making himself intentionally homeless and would not have been re-housed by the Council.

We approached the council on numerous occasions offering to set up a payment plan affordable for Mr A to avoid the possession proceedings; however the council refused to accept the offers.

However, after sending a letter directly to the Chief Executive, detailing Mr A situation, and asking him to exercise his discretion, the council agreed to accept weekly payments of £10 towards the arrears and suspend the possession proceedings.

It will take Mr A over 3 years to clear the arrears but he will be able to remain in his home.

Unfair TV licence fine repaid

An innocent elderly couple had been fined for not having a TV licence where they no longer lived. After four court hearings, Z2K got the £200 fine repaid, together with £65 costs and fees of £250 demanded by bailiffs.

Stressed single mother protected from bailiffs

A mother of five was suffering from stress because she was being threatened by bailiffs for unpaid council tax. The debt arose because of her understandable delay in claiming restored council tax benefit in a confused period after she had been out of her house following a fire. Z2K persuaded the council to withdraw the bailiffs and to accept monthly payments of £3.65 instead of the £250 up front demanded by the bailiffs.

Bid to evict a single mother stopped

We have just achieved a spectacular success for one of our clients with the brilliant assistance of our volunteer Robert Kerr.

Fatma is a 20-year-old single mother with a small baby who has, since she was 16, looked after her two younger brothers. One of the brothers moved out to live with her sister because he was having difficulties with gangs at his local school. Her housing benefit immediately went down as a result and she was unable to pay the balance of the rent.

Like so many people in her situation, she could not move into smaller private rented accommodation because she could not find the deposit, and the Housing Department would not help because they said it was her fault she was in arrears.

Robert went to court with her for the eviction hearing. He persuaded the landlord to waive the arrears and to bring the tenancy to an end on other grounds so that she could be rehoused. Fatma told us that the night after the hearing was the first time she had slept properly for months.