Knowsley Housing Trust v Prescott [2009] EWHC 924 (27 April 2009)

In allowing the appeal by a housing association against a county court decision to only grant a suspended possession order against a tenant sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to supply amphetamines and cocaine, the High Court (Knowsley Housing Trust v Prescott [2009] EWHC 924) has helpfully clarified the way in which the courts should be viewing the use of Ground 14 (Housing Act 1988, Schedule 2, Ground 14) claims by landlords against assured tenants.

At the first hearing the county court judge took into account the fact that the tenant had already been punished for his crime, and that the drug dealing was not from rented property itself, when making the suspended order. However, the High Court have made it clear that any punishment in the criminal court is irrelevant to the issue of a possession order, and that Ground 14 is clear that the indictable offence committed only has to be committed in the “locality” of the property, not inside it.

In addition, if a court is considering exercising its discretion to order a suspended possession order rather than an outright order in a Ground 14 claim, one of the factors it should be taking into account is what is likely to happen in the future, i.e. is there a sound basis for believing that the tenant’s anti-social behaviour or criminal activity will not reoccur?

Whilst we consider that this was a strong case on appeal, it sends a clear message to District Judges that drug dealing must be viewed seriously by the courts when deciding what type of order to make, and that an outright order is likely to be the norm rather than the exception, provided the offence is committed in the locality of the provider’s property.

Our housing management team has a lot of practical experience in dealing with claims for providers of social housing against tenants on both of the Ground 14 limbs, anti-social behaviour and criminal convictions. In our experience there is often only a fine line to be drawn between drug-related activity by tenants that will reach the threshold needed to launch a Ground 14 claim and that which will not. We are always happy to advise and assist clients in building a case against tenants who are either in breach of the tenancy agreements or who may be liable under Ground 14.

Lastly, in terms of practical tips, the Knowsley case highlights the need for providers of social housing to:

  • Be alert to reports of drug-related activity in or near their properties
  • Maintain clear logs of incidents from the start and keep well-ordered files
  • Keep clear records of any conversations held with tenants, especially regarding any lack of concern or remorse for their activities
  • Work closely with local police resources in order to co-ordinate efforts