Court saves widow from eviction

Posted: 19th November 2013

RCJA local authority has been criticised by the Court of Appeal for its attempts to evict a young widow from the home she shared with her husband, who hanged himself.

The widow still lived with the memory of finding her husband’s body, but Leicester City Council had 'misled' her and given her 'misinformation' in its attempts to evict her from the council home, of which her husband was the sole tenant.

The husband had inherited the tenancy from his mother and, when he died, his widow - a mother of two young children - had no legal right to stay there. The Council viewed her as a 'tolerated trespasser' and resolved to seek a possession order despite her ‘powerful plea’ to stay.

Although it ‘recognised the mitigating circumstances’ and 'sympathised' with the family, the Council’s housing department had expressed concern that giving preference to the family on the city’s housing waiting list would leave it 'vulnerable to criticism or worse' for failing to abide by its housing allocation policy.

The Council pointed out that the widow lacked any tenancy rights and had failed to comply with requests to provide documentary proof of her identity and that the house had been her permanent address prior to her husband’s death. However, a county court judge declined to grant a possession order.

Dismissing the Council’s appeal against that ruling, the Court noted, "The widow was a vulnerable person who had suffered much during her adult life...the culmination of her troubles was the suicide of her husband. She found the body after he had hanged himself.

“She was living on benefits and bringing up two young children as a single mother. She was determined to remain in the house which was the address where she had lived with her husband through good times and bad.  It had been her children's main home for most of their lives."

The Court found that housing officials had 'misled’ the widow into the mistaken belief that there was no possibility of her being allowed to remain in the house. She had also not been informed that the property could be let to her directly and her failure to provide the necessary proofs had arisen from that misleading advice.

The Court concluded, "The facts of this case constitute exceptional circumstances which plainly merited consideration under the allocations policy. Of course, the council was not bound to make a direct let of the house to the widow. But it was under a duty to give serious consideration to doing so.

"The council cannot rely upon the widow’s failure to comply with the procedures set out in the allocations policy in circumstances where the council had caused that non-compliance. In commencing possession proceedings against her without giving any or any proper consideration to the option of making a direct let...the council acted unlawfully.”