This blog post was written by J who is a barrister.
The media were on Sunday 13.3.22 reporting that the government are going to launch an extra-statutory scheme on Monday whereby people will be able to offer accommodation to Ukrainians fleeing the invasion. Details are sketchy, but the main points seem to be that:
(a) you can offer a room (or rooms?) in your own house or a separate house;
(b) it needs to be for a minimum term of six months; and,
(c) it must be rent free to the occupiers, albeit the government will pay you £350 pcm.
Anything that allows people to help is, obviously, A Good Thing, but I confess to some housing law related concerns. I know we have civil servants and politicians who read this, so…
1) I assume that any Ukrainian offered housing under this scheme will automatically be afforded a “Right to Rent” under the Immigration Act 2014? (England only – Wales and Scotland don’t have this problem). I’m not sure of the precise immigration status of such people and it may be that the government needs to issue bespoke authorisations to individuals. Given that the Home Office is responsible for such matters I don’t think it’s churlish to suggest there may be problems here.
2) Is the £350 pcm to be treated as income for tax purposes (or for benefits purposes)? That seems to me to be quite important. It would, for example, be ludicrous if someone who rented their home and received some HB/UC was then to lose that benefit because the £350 pcm for letting a spare room took them over the relevant income thresholds.
3) How is the 6 month period to be secured? If the letting is of a single room in a home occupied by the owner/tenant then this is a “resident landlord” case and so no real security of tenure. If the letting is of a whole house then whilst it *might* be a valid tenancy (‘tho even that isn’t clear – this might be another example of the “no intention to create legal relations” / “akin to charity” cases such as Booker v Palmer) , it’d only be a common law tenancy and not attract assured tenancy status because of the “no rent” exclusion in Sch.1, Housing Act 1988. So is the government proposing to provide a particular form of agreement which is for a fixed term and has no break clause or other power for early termination?
4) It shouldn’t be assumed that people are allowed to let Ukrainians live in their homes (whether a room or a whole property). Anyone with a mortgage may well find their mortgage terms and conditions require the consent of the lender. And anyone with a leasehold title needs to see what the lease permits as regards parting with possession of the whole or part. The range of possible wording of clauses is vast. And what about associated property contracts, e.g. household insurance contracts. Do you need to notify your insurer?
5) Anyone going down this route needs to check whether they’ll need a licence under Parts 2 or 3, Housing Act 2004. I accept that the prospects of local authority enforcement must be quite low but it’s still something I’d be concerned about.
6) Don’t forget the statutory overcrowding offences in the Housing Act 1985 and the tendency of children to grow older, thus affecting the overcrowding status. Again, whilst I suspect prosecution would be an unlikely outcome, I’d rather know that the problem doesn’t arise (e.g. because of a legislative waiver) rather than rely on the checks and balances within the prosecution system.
7) Council tax – obviously any vacant home modifications will need to change if a whole house is to be let. Depending on where you are in the country, you may find your £350 pcm is all taken by council tax!
Now, it may be that the government has thought of some of this but, given the inadequate nature of the response thus far, I rather fear that it has not.
This blog post was written by J who is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.
Update – 15.3.22
More details about the scheme are now available here. When the Secretary of State gave his statement to the House of Commons on 14.3.22, he expressly said the money was tax free and would not affect the council tax or welfare benefits position.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful