Austerity and Public Law: Alexander Latham: Defending Rights in the Face of Austerity: Is the Supreme Court Calling Time on Social Housing Managerialism? – UK Constitutional Law Association

‘In cases involving social housing, English courts have traditionally taken what we might call a “managerial” approach: their starting-point for analysis has not been the tenant or applicant for housing as a rights-holder, but the need of local authorities to distribute their scarce resources effectively. In Burrows v Brent LBC [1996] 1 WLR 1448, for example, where a tenant who was permitted to remain after a possession order was held not to have been impliedly granted a new tenancy, Lord Browne-Wilkinson said that “housing authorities try to conduct their housing functions as humane and reasonable landlords” (at 1455). The tenant might be forgiven for wondering why this should count against him, but clearly the implication is that as ‘humane and reasonable landlords’ local authorities should be left to manage their housing stock with as little interference from the courts as possible. More recently this attitude led to the courts’ extreme reluctance to enable a public sector tenant to rely on article 8 ECHR in possession proceedings. When the Supreme Court finally acceded to pressure from Strasbourg, it nevertheless drew the teeth from the human rights defence by agreeing with the Secretary of State’s submission that “a local authority’s aim in wanting possession should be a ‘given’ ” (Manchester CC v Pinnock [2011] UKSC 6, per Lord Neuberger at [53]), so that “there will be no need, in the overwhelming majority of cases, for the local authority to explain and justify its reasons for seeking a possession order” (Hounslow LBC v Powell [2011] UKSC 8, per Lord Hope at [37]). The local authority is simply assumed to be acting in a way which benefits the general welfare; this assumption is then taken to justify the effect of its actions on individuals in all but the most extreme of cases.’

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UK Constitutional Law Association, 9th December 2015