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BRACKNELL FOREST TENANT LOSES HOUSING LAW FIGHT

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A woman today lost a high court test case which, had she won, would have sent a major ripple through local authorit...
A woman today lost a high court test case which, had she won, would have sent a major ripple through local authority housing departments around the country.
However, the decision may still have an effect where local housing authorities seek to evict people who fall into the new category of 'introductory tenants' created by the Housing Act 1996.
Vicki Johns claimed that the new regime of 'introductory tenancies' breached recently introduced Human Rights Act provisions and should be scrapped. She was joined in the case at the last minute by her fellow tenant, Nina McLellan, also 19.
However, Mr Justice Longmore ruled that, although Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights could be applied in the field of introductory tenancies, the provisions were not breached in this case.
He said that the system complained about was justified by the 'pressing social need' for council's to be able to enforce rules on nuisance and non-payment of rent.
Ms Johns, who had carried on with her test case even though the threat of eviction under the new provisions had been lifted from her personally, had challenged the scheme which gives local authorities the option to treat all new tenants as 'introductory tenants' for one year, and grant them fewer rights than secure tenants.
Although introductory tenants have the same rights to assign their interest to others, to property repairs and be consulted on house management matters, they are not entitled to other secure tenants' rights including the right to buy or improve the property, or take lodgers.
Introductory tenants become full secure tenants once the year is up, and this has now happened to Ms Johns.
However, she claimed that the way Bracknell Forest District Council, which adopted the scheme, treated her during eviction proceedings breached her human rights to respect for her home, and to a fair hearing.
The legal battle followed moves by the council in which it sought to evict Ms Johns, who was described as 'vulnerable' in papers before the court, from her one-bedroom flat. She was served with a notice of possession alleging nuisance, although she had never received any complaints.
The allegation related to a number of incidents involving people trying to recover a debt from an ex-boyfriend of Ms Johns, including threats to 'trash' the flat and one occasion when her door was kicked in. Ms Johns managed to ward off the possession proceedings, and has since gained secure tenancy rights.
Ms McLellan joined her in her action, having also faced a possession order for failing to pay her rent due to problems with housing benefit. She too is no longer subject to eviction proceedings, but remains an introductory tenant until June.
The tenants argued that the rules covering the process of serving possession orders on introductory tenants did not involve a determination of important issues by an independent and impartial tribunal.
She argued that, if a local authority issued proceedings for possession and served the appropriate 14 days notice, a county court had no discretion other than to make an order for possession. And she claimed that a tenant seeking to challenge such an order through judicial review would have to prove 'unreasonableness verging on absurdity'.
Her counsel, Robert Latham had argued that the procedures used by the council breached the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) now enshrined in our law by the Human Rights Act and that the restrictions imposed on Ms Johns' rights by the introductory tenancy scheme could not be justified as necessary or proportional.
However, refusing the application, and describing the mechanism of judicial review as sufficient to keep proceedings fair, Mr Justice Longmore said: 'It is the duty of the court to ensure that the authorities do not exercise their powers incompatibly with the convention.'
Although he said that the convention could apply in introductory tenancies, he said that this was an area in which Europe had ruled that 'national legislation must be accorded a wide margin of appreciation'.
In this case, he said that: 'The interference to the respect to one's home corresponds to a pressing social need. This means that neither the enactment of the scheme or the adoption of the scheme by local authorities is incompatible.'
Speaking after the decision, Robert Latham said: 'I think the finding that Articles 6 and 8 are engaged provides very important procedural safeguards for introductory tenants and, in particular, any local authority would need to justify any eviction as being necessary and proportionate.'
Strand News Service
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