QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF TALEBUR RAHMAN CHOWDHURY
NIVA ALMUNA CHOWDHURY
|- and -
|THE MAYOR AND BURGESSES OF THE LONDON BOROUGH OF NEWHAM
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited, 190 Fleet Street
London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7421 4040, Fax No: 020 7831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
Mr David Matthias (instructed by Helen Sidwell, Head of Legal Services for the London Borough of Newham) for the Defendants
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Grigson:
"The purpose of the introductory tenancy scheme was and is to confirm a tenant's suitability and reliability over the relatively short period of a year…….Absent some good explanation, a tenant who defaults in a significant amount of rent during this period is on the face of it unsuitable. If the reason for the default is an apparently unjustified or refusal by the council to meet a request for housing benefit, the position will look different, but where the tenant has never moved in….."
Miss Rubens relies upon the passage for reasons which will become apparent when I deal with the facts
i) That the Court will be asked to make an order for possession.
ii) The reason why such an order is sought
iii) The date after which proceedings may be begun.
iv) That the tenant has a right to request a review of the housing authority's decision.
v) That the tenant can, if he needs help, seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or similar agencies or a solicitor.
"If any person shall fail to appear at the hearing, notice having been given to him in accordance with regulation 6, the person conducting the review may, having regard to all the circumstances including any explanation offered for the absence, proceed with the hearing notwithstanding his absence, or give such directions with a view to the conduct of the further review as that person may think proper."
"I shall state my conclusion on this issue with equal brevity. It is clear from the evidence as a whole that the Review Board on 18 October did not consider afresh the appropriateness of bringing proceedings for possession. Instead, the Board focused upon the question whether the housing officer had acted reasonably in reaching his decision. That approach is not in accordance with section 129 of the 1996 Act. On any fair reading section 129 requires that the landlord should consider afresh the evidence and the merits, and should reconsider whether the proper course is to bring proceedings for possession. When a landlord reviews his own decision under section 129, the process is not analogous to judicial review by a court."
Miss Rubens relies upon this also.
"The weekly rent at start of tenancy comprises:
net rent £54.06 per week
Heating £ per week
Water rate £3.34 per week
Other £ per week
Gross rent £57.40 per week"
"I/We have received a copy of the Council's Conditions of Tenancy
1/We understand and agree to the Conditions of Tenancy.
1/We have received a copy of the Tenant's Handbook.
I/We have received keys to the property.
The gross rent is to be paid weekly in advance."
"I am not very literate and I was having a lot of difficulty completing the form myself and I kept asking Mrs. Hameed for help. Mrs. Hameed ended up filling the form for us and asked me to sign at the appropriate place…………at no time did she explain to me the workings of the Housing Benefit system and also the financial consequences for signing any tenancy. Even now my solicitors/advisors ask me if I know what the financial consequences are, I can only guess and say that one is responsible for rent payments and that if rent is not paid, arrears build up………"
He adds that it was not explained that he and his wife were jointly liable for the water rate.
"The Housing Officer responsible for the signing up procedure was Mrs. Hameed. Obviously at this remove of time, Mrs. Hameed has no recollection of dealing with the Chowdhurys. However she is an extremely experienced Housing Officer……..It is standard practice for Housing Officers signing up a new tenant to explain the financial consequence of signing for any tenancy and the workings of the Housing Benefit scheme. Details of the family's income would be obtained and in an appropriate case a Housing Benefit Form would have been provided to the new tenant for completion. Water service charges do not qualify for payment of Housing Benefit and it is standard practice for all Housing Officers to explain this and to stress the need for the next tenant to pay this money directly to the Council."
"We need more information"
The exact information required is specified. There is a 'Reply Sheet' attached. The letter ends:
"You must reply within four weeks of the date at the top of this letter. If you do not we will assume that you no longer want to claim benefit."
"I cannot deal with your benefit claim."
In the letter the Claimant is told that he still has not provided that necessary information and consequently it was assumed that he no longer wanted to claim benefit. He was notified that if he still wanted to claim benefit, he must contact the Newham Benefit Service within 7 days. He was also told of his right to appeal.
"Re: Arrears of Rent and Charges of £172.20 at 4th November 2001."
Had either Claimant troubled to read the letter or to have the letter read to them, they must have appreciated nothing had been paid towards their gross rent.
"I am sure I did not receive the letters of the 7th November or the 12th December but I did receive the letter of the 7th January 2002."
"At no stage however did the Defendants inform us of the accumulating rent arrears and the first we heard from them was through a notice dated the 7.02.02. Both the 2nd Claimant and we have poor English and we did not realise what the notice was. We treated it as a circular and did not pay any regard to it."
"Notice to terminate an Introductory Tenancy"
In paragraph 3 it is stated that the Claimants had broken their obligation "to pay the rent, water rates…………………"and that there were arrears of rent amounting to £918.40.
"Enquiry details. Customer has provided reminder notice (dated 21/11/2001) at interview and would like to make payment
Advised that there is a court hearing date set for 13/03 2002 but that if Mr. Chowdhury pay £296.30 before the court hearing then there would not be court charges of £40.75
Mr Chowdhury has advised that he will be paying the amount outstanding of £296.30 tomorrow on account number 63515978."
"Notice to Terminate - Review"
It states that the Claimants had broken their introductory agreement and had been sent a 'Notice to Terminate' which, if it went ahead would cause them to lose their Council home. It detailed the procedure whereby the decision to terminate could be reviewed. Again, the Claimants were advised as to where to seek advice.
a. That the rent had been paid as from the 18th February 2002
b. That the decision refusing the application for the payment of housing benefit from 9th October 2001 until the 18th February 2002 was under appeal
c. That if that appeal succeeded, the arrears were no more than £50.
d. That the Claimant had paid £100 towards the arrears of water rate.
e. That the arrears only arose because of the failure of the Council's own officer.
a) That whilst it is arguable (and accepted for these proceedings) that Mrs. Hameed failed to complete the claim for housing benefit, the Claimant failed to respond to any query about housing benefit until the 29th January 2002 and even then did not supply all the necessary information.
b) The Claimants had been advised of the rent arrears repeatedly. They had not responded to any of those reminders. They had not responded to the Notice to Terminate. Their only recorded response was when the 1st Claimant saw Ms. Harvey on the 18th February 2002 when he said he would pay £296.30 the next day and failed to do so.
c) The Claimants had not troubled to make any representation to the Review Board.
I comment that the Panel can only act upon the material put before it.
"To enable any request by your client for a review of his housing benefit entitlement to be completed and any resulting adjustment to his rent properly effected."
The need for an additional review was necessary because in August 2002 the 1st Claimant had secured employment.
"The Council is satisfied that your client has breached the tenancy agreement in respect of the obligation to pay rent weekly in advance."
"I am of the opinion and have been from an early stage in their Introductory Tenancy that the Claimants are not suitable tenants. In my view their conduct is such that Newham was fully justified in issuing and pursuing possession proceedings in the County Court. The Claimants are the kind of tenants who only demonstrate a willingness to pay their dues when under pressure to do so in the form of threatened or actual court proceedings. However, in the event that a Possession Order were to be obtained against the Claimants, I would not propose to issue a Possession Warrant in respect of property provided that the Claimants maintained their rent account at a nil or credit balance."