12 February, 2009
Ordinarily if a tenant elects to leave a property, they would be considered as being intentionally homeless for the purposes of the Housing Act 1996. However, the recent decision in Iyekekpolor Ugiagbe v Southwark LBC  EWCA Civ 31 has held that vacating a property could not be considered as a deliberate act if the tenant was unaware of the security of tenure and the act itself had been done in good faith.
Ugiagbe (U) had entered into a tenancy agreement with a private landlord for a period of 12 months for herself and her young children to live in a property. With less than two months left before the expiry date, the landlord informed U that the tenancy would not be extended and that she would be required to leave the premises.
Subsequently, U visited a local advice centre and, according to her, she was informed to attend the local homeless persons unit who would provide her with temporary accommodation. U instead decided to continue in the bidding process for permanent local authority accommodation and for the interim, asked the landlord to permit her more time to live in the property. The landlord granted U a few additional months. During this additional period, U was unsuccessful in her attempts to obtain permanent housing and so, in the belief that she had to, left the property despite the landlord not being entitled to possession without a court order.
U was therefore homeless and was eligible for assistance and was in priority need because of her children. Southwark LBC refused to provide more than temporary housing on the basis that he had become homeless intentionally.
At first instance, the court upheld the decision of the local authority, which led U to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The question for the Court of Appeal to determine was whether U's homelessness was intentional under the Housing Act 1996, given that U stated that she did not know that she was not obliged to leave the property on the landlord's demand. The local authority argued that U's act of quitting the premises was not done in good faith and that the scope of such acts was not limited to dishonesty, but also included wilful ignorance and manipulation. They submitted that these phrases should also cover instances such as in U's situation, where an individual is given advice as to how to gain assistance, the advice is deliberately not taken up and the person therefore remained in ignorance of what she would have been told.
The Court of Appeal held that U had ceased to occupy the accommodation on the landlord's demand, but it was available to her and it would have been reasonable for her to continue living in it; leaving the house was clearly a deliberate act on U's part. The question to be determined was whether this act had been done in good faith and was undertaken by U whilst unaware of relevant facts. It was initially agreed that U's ignorance of the fact that she had security of tenure meant that she was unaware of a relevant fact.
It was also said that the act of her giving up the accommodation was done in good faith. This terminology was aimed at protecting local housing authorities from owing a full duty to house people who ought to be regarded as intentionally homeless. In U's case however, her act of not going to the homeless persons unit could not be regarded as falling within this definition. U had been unintentionally misled into thinking that if she attended the unit, she would be treated as homeless and would be put into temporary accommodation. This was very different to 'turning a blind eye' to the situation. This decision could be said to be foolish or unwise, but would not be sufficient to put her into the category of not being in good faith or of being unreasonable.
As a consequence of rulings such as this, Registered Social Landlords and local housing authorities alike may wish to ensure that tenants are fully aware of how possession proceedings operate and of the options available to them in such situations.