Allocation of Social Housing in Swansea

by Paul Bevan

Deciding who is allocated a home goes right to the heart of debates about the purpose of social housing. It begs the question ‘who is social housing for’? In a time of an undersupply of affordable social housing is it for everyone, is it for people in the most desperate need of housing or is it for a mix of people somewhere in between? We all need somewhere to live, but how do we define need and how do we decide that one person’s need is a higher priority than someone else’s?

Shelter Cymru’s new report Allocation of Social Housing in Swansea adds to this debate. Based on research before the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were introduced in March 2020, it remains relevant in Swansea and may apply to other areas of Wales.

During the research we interviewed staff in the four main social landlords covering Swansea – the council, Coastal, Family and Pobl housing associations – and shadowed staff in their daily work. We observed as people applied for housing and we interviewed applicants to learn about their experience.

Swansea is one of the only local authorities in Wales without a common housing register. Each landlord has a different system for applying for and deciding who gets a home. Depending on where people want to live, they need to apply to one, two, three or all four landlords, completing up to four applications and making follow-up enquiries with each one. Some people applying for a home told us that the system is difficult to understand and complicated. This made us question whether some people lose out because of this.

All of the landlords require people to be in housing need, but have different ways of prioritising applicants. Two give priority to people in the greatest need through giving them points or putting them in a category of need; one prioritises people who have waited the longest, and one matches people based on the value they bring to the community and the value that the property and community bring to them. Three landlords operate a waiting list, and the fourth has a choice based approach where people can apply for individual homes that they view on line.

All take a person’s former tenant history into account when deciding whether to offer a home – such as any former rent arrears, damage to a property or ‘anti social’ behaviour. The landlords consider each person on a case by case basis and are flexible on implementing their policy. But some applicants told us that former rent arrears are still an obstacle to getting a home. Getting the balance right is not easy, but we all need a home irrespective of what has happened in the past.

The landlords want people to be ready and able to manage in their new homes and to settle well into their communities. If people need help, all of the landlords have contacts with support providers; some offer support themselves. Some people, particularly in supported housing, told us that having to demonstrate they are ‘tenancy-ready’ caused delays. Being able to manage is important, but if people can get the support they need in their new homes, this could reduce their wait and help them to manage well.

Deciding the right approach to allocations is difficult. Swansea needs much more housing that is affordable, of the right type in the right areas. To help people more now, the landlords need to remove any unnecessary obstacles to ensuring that homeless people and others in the most need of a home are housed quickly and with the right support.

Legal: Much-needed clarity in the law on landlord licensing

By Katie White and Alison Jones

Unlicensed landlords in Wales cannot serve a section 8 eviction notice, following our successful intervention in a Court of Appeal case. This case law brings much-needed protection for tenants and clarity on a contentious issue.

Since 2016 it has been illegal in Wales to act as a landlord or agent unless you  are licensed. A licence shows that you are a fit and proper person and that you have undergone essential training to understand the responsibilities of managing people’s homes.

Far from being just an administrative burden, it provides important basic protections for tenants and helps to make the private rented sector more professional.

Compliance with the scheme is considered so important that the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 removed the ability for unlicensed landlords to use eviction powers. However the Act’s wording was unclear, and this has caused difficulties for tenants ever since. Courts have interpreted the Act in different ways, meaning there has been a lack of consistency across Wales.

The problem lies with the wording of section 44 of the Act, which refers specifically to section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notices but is silent on section 8 eviction notices. As a result, some landlords and some judges have taken the view that unlicensed landlords can still legally evict as long as they rely on section 8 notice rather than a section 21 notice.

Shelter Cymru and the tenants we represent, have long challenged this view. We have argued that section 8 notices are included , in that they are covered in section 7 of the Act which provides that  landlord cannot serve a notice to terminate a tenancy whilst unlicensed. and should  have the benefit of the protection afforded by the legislation.

Rachel Anthony from Civitas Chambers represented Shelter Cymru who acted as Court of Appeal intervener in the case of Jarvis v Evans. The much-anticipated Judgment has been handed down this week.

The appeal, brought by the Landlord against the decision of Her Honour Judge Garland-Thomas, was dismissed . Her Honour Judge Garland-Thomas had decided that the landlord was not able to rely on a section 8 notice as he was not licensed with Rent Smart Wales at the time of the service of the notice.  Giving his judgment Lord Justice Newey stated, ‘I agree with Judge Garland-Thomas that the fact that Mr Jarvis was not licensed when he served the section 8 notice on Mr and Mrs Evans rendered it invalid.’

The appeal focussed on two issues: –

  1. Does section 7(2)(f) of the 2014 Act (‘serving notice to terminate a tenancy’) extend to the service of a notice under section 8 of the 1988 Act?
  2. If the answer is yes, is a notice served in breach of section 7 of the 2014 Act invalid?

The Court of Appeal answered affirmatively to both.

It was clear from the submissions made by the Respondent’s Counsel and by Rachel Anthony’s written submissions that the purpose of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 and the subsequent licensing regime is to protect tenants, and that if a section 8 notice is excluded from the protection it makes a mockery of the intent of the Welsh Government.

Whilst the landlord in this case was claiming substantial rent arrears, the issues regarding a landlord’s ability to collect rent when unlicensed were not dealt with in the appeal. However, some interesting comments were made at paragraph 42 (v) of the Judgment: this issue in particular is likely to be the subject of further litigation.

Given the importance of the case, Solicitors at Hugh James, and their appointed Barristers at Field Court Chambers, decided to act for the tenants on a pro-bono basis.