Commission welcomes ruling on rights of social housing tenants

Many social housing tenants will now be protected by the Human Rights Act after EHRC intervention

18 June 2009

Many social housing tenants will now be protected by the Human Rights Act after an intervention by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a landmark human rights case judgment at the Court of Appeal.

The Court found that some Registered Social Landlords (such as charities, companies or co-operatives that provide social housing) will now be treated as public authorities and subject to the Human Rights Act. These Landlords will now be required to have regard to a tenant’s human rights – such as the right to a private and family life and right to a fair trial - when deciding whether to make an eviction order. 

John Wadham, Group Legal Director, said:

“Increasingly the Government is using private bodies to carry out public functions in areas such as social housing, care homes and detention and deportation services. It is only correct that Registered Social Landlords, who are providing these public functions, be treated as a public authority and be subject to the Human Rights Act. This will require Social Landlords to consider the proportionality and reasonableness of their actions, by taking a human rights approach.

 “This recognition will benefit those who live in social housing. As we found in our recent Human Rights Inquiry, where a human rights approach is incorporated into public services both users and providers benefit.”

The case arose out of the attempted eviction of Susan Weaver from a flat where she had lived as an assured tenant since 1993.  The London Quadrant Housing Trust alleged that Mrs Weaver had failed to pay her rent for eight weeks and sought an order to repossess her property.

While the High Court found the Trust had not breached her human rights, it did find that its role in allocating, managing and terminating social housing was a public function, making the Trust a public authority for those purposes and so subject to obligations under the Human Rights Act. 

The Trust appealed this ruling. By a majority of two to one, the Court of Appeal confirmed the view of the High Court that the Trust was a public authority. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the appeal to argue that registered Social Landlords should be treated as public authorities in relation to those functions and other functions, such as issuing anti-social behaviour orders.

 The decision does not prevent social landlords from evicting a tenant for failing to pay rent. What it does mean is that human rights must be considered in making that decision.

 Brian McKenna, from Brian McKenna and Co Solicitors, who represented Mrs Weaver, said:

 “I am delighted with the outcome of this landmark case which could benefit over two million homes.  I appreciated the Commission’s intervention in it and the expertise it provided to the Court.”

Lord Justice Elias acknowledged the work of the Commission stating the Court “had the benefit of  .... some very helpful written submissions from ... the Equality and Human Rights Commission”.

ENDS

Notes for Editors

  1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission
    The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.
     
  2. Interventions
    The UK Parliament has recognised the value of the Commission’s expertise, imposing on it an obligation to intervene in certain legal proceedings by virtue of section 30 of the Equality Act 2006. The Commission takes a strategic approach when deciding to intervene. It will generally intervene in cases where it can use its expertise to clarify or challenge an important element of the law. The cases generally involve serious matters of public policy or general public concern.  The outcome of these cases often has a wide impact as they set precedents to be followed by the lower courts.