When Louise first told me her story, I knew that she was not being treated fairly. I usually get a sense very quickly as to whether or not a claim has merit – but what I didn’t immediately realise was how legally complicated this case would be and what a wonderful success it would lead to.
Louise’s mother had Alzheimer’s and lived in a rented property that was owned by Clarion Housing Association, a Registered Provider of Social Housing. Louise works as a nurse and 13 years before I met her, she had left her home to move in with her mother to care for her.
Sadly, Louise’s mother passed away in 2017. Almost immediately, Clarion served notice to terminate any remaining tenancy and asked Louise to leave the house. However, in the covering letter they also asked Louise to let them know if she had a right to succeed the tenancy.
Louise’s mother had once been a secure tenant, but when the house had been transferred from the Council to a Registered Provider of Social Housing, it had converted to an assured status. In order to protect tenants in the situation of Louise’s mother, assured tenancy agreements usually contain contractual provisions which mimic statutory rights that are otherwise lost when a tenancy loses secure status. In this case, the tenancy contained a provision which allowed a family member to succeed the tenancy, if they have been living with the tenant for 12 months before the tenant’s death.
Louise duly notified Clarion that she had a right to succeed the tenancy. However, Clarion declined the application on the basis that Louise still owned the house she had left 13 years beforehand. I knew straightaway this wasn’t right, because the criteria that had to be considered was whether Louise occupied the house as her “only or principal home”. It seemed that Clarion had made a mistake by taking into account the fact that Louise owned a house elsewhere. The house she lived at with her mother was, most definitely, her principal home, and Louise clearly met the contractual criteria to succeed the tenancy.
Clarion could not be persuaded to agree that Louise had a right to succeed the tenancy and in June 2019, they issued possession proceedings. Louise counter-claimed for a declaration that she was occupied the property under her mother’s tenancy or could succeed it. The legal arguments in this case were far more complicated than I had initially anticipated. However, we were successful at first instance and we were delighted when the Judge declared that Louise had acquired her mother’s assured tenancy and could stay at the property.
Clarion was not satisfied with this outcome and appealed. The appeal ended up turning on whether or not Louise could take the benefit of the contractual provisions in her mother’s tenancy agreement. As it had been entered into before the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties Act) 1999, Clarion argued that Louise could not enforce the terms of the contact (the tenancy) because she was not a party to it. Of course the person who was a party, Louise’s mother, could not enforce it because she had passed away.
Counsel for Louise, Stephanie Lovegrove of 4-5 Grays Inn, put forward a cleverly constructed argument that Louise could rely on the contractual provisions due to a very old doctrine of “trust of a promise”. The Court found in favour of this which meant that Louise could make Clarion carry out its contractual obligation to grant her a succession tenancy. The Court also found that that Clarion was in breach of public law, as it had failed to follow its own policy. Clarion’s policy stated that in the case of succession of assured tenancies, it was not permitted to exercise any discretion and had to permit the succession. In this case, Clarion had wrongly applied discretion and made a decision to refuse to agree to Louise succeeding as it had focussed its mind solely on the fact that Louise owned a house elsewhere.
This was a very stressful journey for Louise. She had lost her mother and then risked losing her home. I am incredibly pleased and proud that, with the support of Stephanie Lovegrove, we were able to help Louise through this difficult time and to have achieved such a positive result. Louise will now continue living in the place she calls home.
This is also a fantastic result for others in a similar situation. There had been an increase of social housing providers refusing to honour succession rights of family members who occupied social housing with a parent before the parent passed away. However, this case should result in much more care being taken in the decision making process and more successful successions.