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Allocation conviction under section 171 of the Housing Act 1996

On 12 February 2018 South Oxfordshire District Council reported on a successful prosecution of a tenant under section 171 of the Housing Act 1996:

171.— False statements and withholding information.

(1) A person commits an offence if, in connection with the exercise by a local housing authority of their functions under this Part—

(a) he knowingly or recklessly makes a statement which is false in a material particular, or

(b) he knowingly withholds information which the authority have reasonably required him to give in connection with the exercise of those functions.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

The tenant had failed to disclose, when applying to go on the Council’s housing register, that she in fact owned a property (which she was letting out).  She had been living in the allocated property for a number of years by the time of the conviction, and the authority had been alerted to the situation by means of an anonymous tip-off.

This was the first conviction for housing fraud by the Council and appears to have relied on the effective follow-on investigative work of not only themselves and the landlord (SOHA Housing), but also Oxford City Council’s Investigation Team.

As well as the £1530 financial orders handed out to the tenant by the Magistrates’ Court in Oxford the tenant apparently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, now faces possession proceedings, presumably under Ground 17 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988:

Ground 17

The tenant is the person, or one of the persons, to whom the tenancy was granted and the landlord was induced to grant the tenancy by a false statement made knowingly or recklessly by—

(a) the tenant, or

(b) a person acting at the tenant’s instigation.

 

where the real issue will no doubt be not, following the conviction, be whether Ground 5 is satisfied but rather whether it is reasonable in all the circumstances to make a possession order.
The usual authorities of Shrewsbury & Atcham BC v Evans (1997) 30 HLR 123, CA and Lewisham LBC v Akinsola and Adeyemi (2000) 32 HLR 414, CA will no doubt be considered by the court, and though a possession order is by nature of the ground being discretionary no means guaranteed – see for example Southwark LBC v Erekin [2003] EWHC 1765 – it is also worth noting the recent remarks of Mr Justice Turner in Poplar Housing & Regeneration Community Association Ltd v Begum [2017] EWHC 2040 (QB); [2017] HLR 42 (a sub-letting of part/only or principal home/drug activity possession case):
“40…I would stress that it is not compassionate to allow profiteering fraudsters indefinitely to continue to occupy premises and thereby exclude from such accommodation more needy and deserving families.”