I am extremely grateful to Robert Brown, a well-known and highly regarded barrister at Arden Chambers, for alerting me to a case he was involved in recently concerning a damages claim for fraudulent misrepresentation.
In essence, the defendant had applied to the claimant local authority for housing assistance in 2003. In 2009 he was offered a tenancy of a flat and signed a declaration confirming that his housing circumstances had not changed since he had first applied, and that he had no other accommodation to live in.
That was clearly wrong as he had in fact purchased a house in 2005 and when this was discovered many years later he was prosecuted under the Fraud Act 2006. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to five offences, including an offence of fraud by false representation contrary to Fraud Act 2006, s.2, and was then sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment.
The local authority thereafter started a civil action to recover damages of £69,842.64 for the defendant’s fraudulent misrepresentation. Importantly and appropriately, this sum was based on the estimated cost of securing one unit of temporary accommodation for other applicants for housing during the period in which the defendant was the tenant of the flat.
After a trial in the County Court at Central London, HHJ Saggerson found for the local authority and ordered the defendant to pay damages of £69,842.64 (whilst also holding rent payments made could not be taken into account as a credit by the defendant as these were payable by whoever occupied the property). He was also ordered to pay the local authority’s costs, which were summarily assessed.
The Judge rejected challenges to the claim based, for example, on causation and remoteness of damage, though doubted whether the original pleading of breach of contract as the cause of action was sustainable. He had though no doubt that the amended statement of case introducing a fraudulent misrepresentation claim was clearly made out.
Needless to say, great credit must go to the local authority and Robert in pursuing this claim to such a successful conclusion and demonstrating that one measure of damages for allocation fraud could be the cost of continuing to accommodate a nominal household who might otherwise have been nominated to the disputed accommodation.
As mentioned at the head of this article, I am very grateful to Robert and Arden Chambers for alerting me to this case, and would welcome similar examples of social housing fraud in the courts from other barristers and solicitors.