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High Court evicts ex-caretaker and family from school bungalow

Jack Stove, 17 on work experience with Maitland Walker has prepared the following summary of the High Court’s decision in Hertfordshire County Council v Davies [2017] EWHC 1488 (QB) (21 June 2017):

The High Court has held that Hertfordshire County Council (“the Council”) who owned a bungalow attached to Sheredes School was entitled to possession of the bungalow to the detriment of the defendant, the former school caretaker.

The defendant took occupation of the bungalow following commencing his post as school caretaker in January 2003. On 2 July 2003 a Service Occupancy Tenancy Agreement (“the Agreement”) was signed by the defendant and a representative of the Council. The Agreement stated that, as a condition of his employment, the defendant was required to live in the bungalow to better perform his employment responsibilities. In addition, the Agreement stated that the defendant’s right to live in the bungalow would end automatically when his employment ended, or if his terms and conditions changed so that he was no longer required to live in the bungalow to perform his employment responsibilities. Either party could also end the Agreement by giving at least 28 days’ notice. On 12 June 2015, after a disciplinary hearing, the Council dismissed the defendant for gross misconduct. On 16 June 2015 a notice was served requiring the defendant had to give up possession of the bungalow.

The defendant raised a number of defences to the Council’s claim for possession which the Court considered as follows:  

  • Section 5(1A) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 which provides for a notice to quit to be provided to a tenant in order to terminate a tenancy or licence did not apply because  the Agreement was a service occupancy and had terminated automatically when the defendant was dismissed.
  • The exception in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 of the Housing Act 1985 excluding from the definition of “secured tenancies” those tenancies where the tenant is an employee of a local authority was not incompatible with Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was right that if a dwelling was only let for the purposes of a service occupancy, there was no reason why that occupier should have security of tenure under the Housing Act 1985 because the local authority would need to house his replacement there and the legislature should have a wide margin of appreciation when making provision of public resources such as housing accommodation. The difference in treatment of this type of occupier compared to other local authority occupiers is objectively justifiable.
  • Section 11(2) of the Children Act 2004 and sections 6 and 149 of the Equality Act 2010 did not apply to give the defendant a defence to the Council’s claim for possession.

Therefore although the defendant raised a number of defences to the Council’s claim for possession it was ultimately clear that the Agreement amounted to a service occupancy, not a lease which ended automatically when his employment ended. In these circumstances, there is strong authority in favour of a local authority seeking to regain possession of its premises.  

Maitland Walker LLP has a recognised practice in property and in litigation and dispute resolution. For further information relating to service occupancies, tenancy agreements or any aspect of contentious property law, please contact Sheree-Ann Virgin on 01643 707777 or by e-mail.