This case is about what “sheltered” accommodation means for the purposes of the housing benefit regulations.
By paragraph 5 Schedule 1, service charges for fuel are ineligible to be met by housing benefit, unless they are in respect of services for communal areas. By paragraph 8 “communal areas” mean areas of common access in sheltered accommodation.
In this case the claimant, who had severe learning difficulties, was a housing association tenant who lived in a property with 4 other tenants, all with learning difficulties. They each had their own bedroom and shared a kitchen, bathroom, two toilets, two sitting rooms and one other room. Care, support and supervision were provided 24 hours a day with a room reserved exclusively for staff.
The local authority held that because the claimant was not in “sheltered accommodation” the part of the rent that was for service charges for fuel and cleaning relating to communal rooms could not be included in the claimant’s HB.
The claimant’s appeal was allowed by the UT. It was held that there was no statutory definition of “sheltered accommodation”; it was to be given a meaning consistent with the underlying purpose of the scheme, which was about financial assistance to enable people to be or remain in their accommodation and it was not to be given a narrow or technical meaning.
The local authority was granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, and the case was heard on 24th January 2012. Judgment was given on 15th February 2012.
The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed Oxford City Council’s appeal. In his leading judgment, Lord Justice Sullivan noted the approach of Judge Mesher in CIS/1460/1995 that there were “no prescriptive characteristics” of sheltered accommodation.
The court rejects the local authority’s submission that the type of accommodation the claimant lived in was “supported” rather than “sheltered” because the level of care provided was such that the claimant was unable to live independently;
“In reality there are varying degrees of ability to lead an independent existence, and the special provision made in Schedule 1 for the cost of lighting, heating and cleaning common rooms in sheltered accommodation is a recognition of the fact that the occupiers of such accommodation may well be leading less independent lives than those how occupy “ordinary” housing. There is force in the Upper Tribunal’s observation in paragraph 34 of its decision that it would be perverse if occupiers who had less need to use the common rooms in sheltered accommodation (because they are more able to manage on their own) were entitled to receive housing benefit to cover the cost of those rooms, while those, such as the Respondent, how had more need to use the common rooms (because they were less able to manage on their own) were not so entitled.”
The court agrees with the Upper Tribunal’s conclusion that the type of accommodation occupied by the claimant “was sheltered accommodation for the purpose of the regulations”;
“Parliament did not choose to define sheltered accommodation and the Court should not impose a prescriptive definition upon an inherently flexible concept which can take many different forms, and which now includes very sheltered or extra care sheltered accommodation.”
Counsel in this case was Dan Kolinsky of Landmark Chambers.