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HIGH COURT RULES FOR EVICTEE AFTER COUNCIL'S HOUSING BENEFIT 'ADMINISTRATION PROBLEMS'

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An illiterate father-of-four was 'unfairly' cast onto the streets because of administrative blunders by Leeds City ...
An illiterate father-of-four was 'unfairly' cast onto the streets because of administrative blunders by Leeds City Council, a top judge has ruled.

Mark Davies was evicted from his home of 13 years over rent arrears which Mr Justice Buckley said were 'largely' due to glitches in the council's computer system which stopped his housing benefit for months.

He said of Mr Davies' eviction earlier this year from his Rothwell home: 'Objectively, it was unfair for him to have been treated and evicted as he was.'

But the judge nevertheless stopped short of granting Mr Davies a formal declaration that his treatment by the council had been 'oppressive'.

The council, he said, had been faced by an 'administrative problem' which prevented Mr Davies being paid the housing benefit that was his due and there had been 'no deliberate unfairness' on the council's part.

Mr Davies had himself failed to turn up to a crucial court hearing in June last year at which a suspended possession order was made against him.

And the judge said that, despite his limitations - he can apparently neither read nor write - Mr Davies could not be exonerated from all responsibility for his own plight.

The Rothwell property has now been re-let and Mr Davies had expressed no desire to return there, but the judge urged the council to 'consider sympathetically' his application for re-housing.

But Mr Justice Buckley said he was unwilling to 'dictate' to the council which must now consider whether Mr Davies is 'intentionally homeless' - and thus not entitled to be re-housed at public expense.

The Leeds County Court judge who issued the suspended possession order on 27 June last year was told that Mr Davies had built up rent arrears of more than£600.

But Mr Justice Buckley said the arrears had 'largely' accrued because of a problem with a new council computer system which resulted in his housing benefit being stopped between January and April last year.

Between December 2003 and May last year, his housing benefit payments were again interrupted and, in March, the council obtained an immediate possession order against Mr Davies.

He tried to have the eviction order lifted, but a judge took the view that he 'wasn't as naive as he claimed to be' and was 'just someone who believed he didn't have to pay rent'.

Mr Justice Buckley said Mr Davies had 'found himself on his own in court and no doubt struggled somewhat to explain the situation'.

He accepted that the judge who made the original possession order had been 'misled' - although it was not suggested deliberately - into believing that Mr Davies' rent was more than£600 in arrears.

The reality of the situation, said Mr Justice Buckley, was that, had the housing benefit been paid as it should have been, his arrears would only have been in the region of£40.

When he was finally credited with nearly£1,200 in unpaid benefits in May this year and other adjustments were made to his rent account, it turned out to be 'pretty well in balance', added the judge.

He said it was 'probably right' that, had the county court judge known the rent arrears were largely due to the council's computer problems and were no fault of Mr Davies', he would never have made the possession order.

Although Mr Davies had taken steps to recoup the unpaid benefit, the judge said he had failed to attend the June 2003 court hearing or take any real action to protect himself until his eviction was imminent.

Although there had been 'no deliberate unfairness' by the council and Mr Davies was himself not entirely blameless, the judge said his eviction had nevertheless been 'objectively unfair'.

The judge added he hoped the council would 'take note' of his remarks when considering whether Mr Davies's re-housing application.

The council has already accepted he is in 'priority need' of re-housing and the judge urged that the remaining issue of whether or he he is intentionally homeless should be 'considered sympathetically'.

Mr Davies, who was legally aided, had his application for a declaration that the council had treated him 'oppressively' dismissed by the judge.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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