Wandsworth Council Wrongly Threatened Tenants With Eviction

Their mother had died midway through a Right to Buy application

Wandsworth Housing Department. Picture: Andrew Wilson

February 11, 2020

Wandsworth Council has apologised after receiving incorrect legal advice which caused it to wrongly threaten tenants with eviction while they were still grieving after the death of their mother.

A report published by the Local Government Ombudsman last week upheld a report against the council for its handling of a Right to Buy application.

The tenant, known in the report as Miss D, and her brother, had applied alongside their mother to purchase their council property in March 2018. However, their mother died midway through the application, throwing the process into doubt.

Council tenancies can only be succeeded once, and their mother had already succeeded the tenancy after their father died in 2002. However, all three had jointly applied for Right to Buy and were considered joint tenants, even if they were unable to succeed the tenancy.

Miss D asked to clarify the situation with the council.

The council’s solicitors said they were entitled to continue with their application as it had begun before their mother’s death and issued her with a final letter offer for the property in October 2018, which she accepted.

But they did not communicate this advice to the council’s estate manager, who believed Miss D had no further right to succeed to the tenancy after her mother’s death, and that the council would need to withdraw the application.

At the same time as her offer letter, Miss D was served a notice that said the council considered the property was too large for her needs and she would be offered a smaller property. She was later told that the notice to leave had expired and that she and her brother were now unauthorised occupants of the property.

When Miss D declined the offer of a new property because she was completing her right to buy application, the council said it would refer the matter back to its legal team.

On this occasion, a solicitor said Miss D and Mr E were not entitled to succeed the property and did not have the Right to Buy – prompting the council to withdraw her application.

With help from her local councillor and MP, Miss D pushed the matter further, and the council once more referred back to their solicitors.

This time they said that the siblings were joint tenants after all, and were able to continue with the application despite their mother’s death.

The council reinstated Miss D’s right to buy application and admitted it received incorrect legal advice.

Miss D complained and received an apology from the council, which said it was updating its procedures to ensure the error was not repeated.

Miss D remained unhappy and complained to the ombudsman, who found the council at fault for its poor communication with the estate manager who incorrectly served the tenants with a notice to quit.

The Ombudsman noted: “If it were not for the tenacity and time and trouble Miss D put into pursuing the matter, it is highly likely Miss D and Mr E would now be living in an alternative property and would have been denied their right to buy the property.”

The council has agreed to pay Miss D £300 to acknowledge “the distress, uncertainty and time and trouble caused to her by the council’s faults,” and a further £200 for Mr E.

A spokesperson for Wandsworth Council said: “We have issued a formal apology to those involved in this case and co-operated fully with the ombudsman’s staff. We have accepted their findings and recommendations and are committed to taking on board all lessons to be learned.”

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