Anthony Gold recently acted for a local authority tenant who requested a transfer from his current council property to a different location because he had received threats of violence from local gangs.

The changes to the availability of legal aid that came into force in 2013 restricted (but didn’t remove) the availability of legal aid in housing cases. In the case of tenants whose landlord is failing to carry out repairs to their home, legal aid is only available in certain circumstances, that is where there is a serious risk of harm to the health and safety of an individual or a family member . Legal aid is not generally available to assist tenants who wish to be transferred from their current property to a new property or to challenge the number of points that a tenant has been awarded under their landlord’s allocation policy.

However, legal aid is still available for some important areas of housing law. In particular, it is available to assist those who need advice in relation to a homelessness application, for example, when a tenant is being evicted from their home, or when they have nowhere to live and want to be housed by a local authority. It is also available where the tenant meets the legal definition of homelessness (see below), and as a result needs advice and assistance in relation to a transfer or allocation issue, as in this case.

For a more comprehensive guide to the availability of legal aid in housing cases generally, see the article written by my colleague Sara Stephens and Jan Luba QC: Sorting myths from facts over housing cases; Legal Action (2014) November Pages 7-1.

The legal definition of homelessness is fairly complex, but can be summarised as follows:

A person if defined as homeless if one of the following applies:-

  •  They have no accommodation which they are entitled to occupy
  • They have accommodation but it is not reasonable for them to continue to occupy it, because, for example, if they stay in the property they are at risk of violence
  • They are threatened with being homeless within the next 28 days, for example, if a bailiff’s warrant is due to be executed within that period

In this particular case, the tenant met the homeless criteria because he had received several recent threats of serious violence by local gangs who were targeting the tenant specifically. The tenant was also vulnerable due to health problems. Using the legal aid funding available for this tenant, we were able to assist the tenant by making representations to the local Authority.  As a result, the local authority agreed to move the tenant from Band D to Band A in the Authority’s allocation scheme. Band D is the lowest priority group of tenants, whereas Band A is the highest priority group and tenants in Band A are generally rehoused within about 6 months.