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Housing Act 1996 – An Overview

The Housing Act 1996 lays out the legal requirements for the provision of rented properties, including:

  • social rented properties
  • houses in multiple occupation (HMO)
  • rights and responsibilities of both tenant and landlord
  • the related handling of universal credit and housing benefit
  • how local housing authorities allocate accommodation
  • homelessness

Social rented sector regulated by the Welsh Ministers

The first section of the Housing Act 1996 outlines the provision of social rented property within Wales, including the following:

  • that a register of all social landlords must be kept by the Welsh Government via each
  • Welsh local authority and made available for inspection when requested
  • who is eligible to become a social landlord
  • further conditions of eligibility
  • responsibilities of a social landlord
  • how to register as a social landlord
  • Reasons for a social landlord to be removed from the register
  • How to appeal against removal
  • Regulation of registered social landlords
  • Involvement with the local authority
  • Disposal of property or land by a social landlord
  • Social housing grants
  • Assistance from local authorities
  • Local authority’s power to obtain information from the social landlord
  • Standards of performance
  • What happens in the case of a registered social landlord becoming insolvent
  • Investigation of complaints

The regulation of social rented housing for the rest of the UK is covered by each individual country with consideration given to The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The remaining sections of the Housing Act 1996, however, cover the entire UK.

Houses in multiple occupation (HMO)

Part 2 of the Housing Act 1996 outlines the conditions for the renting of houses in multiple occupation.

A house in multiple occupation must be:

  • occupied for residential purposes
  • occupied by more than one household, e.g. more than one tenant, more than one family, or more than one couple
  • generally made available in a way that more than one household share a basic amenity, such as a kitchen or bathroom

An HMO may therefore be a house where more than one household live and share amenities, a building partly converted into self-contained flats, or some other arrangement that meets with the above requirements.

This section of the Housing Act 1996 has generally been superseded by The Housing Act 2004.

Landlord and Tenant

Part 3 of the Act includes information on:

Tenant’s rights

This section outlines the rights of the tenant with regard to the ending of the lease by the landlord, the level of service charges, the appointing of a manager by the courts, and where the rental property they occupy is made available for sale or transferred to a new landlord.

Assured tenancies

This section covers definitions for and the conditions of assured shorthold tenancies and assured agricultural occupancies, and the related responsibilities of landlords.

An assured shorthold tenancy is the most common type of tenancy and generally relies on the following:

  • the property is rented from a private landlord
  • the tenancy began on or after 15 January 1989
  • the property is the occupant’s main home
  • the landlord does not occupy the rental property

An assured agricultural occupancy involves the provision of a self-contained home to an agricultural worker as a condition of their employment.

Leasehold reform

This section discusses how leasehold related legislation has changed, including the updating of definitions, with details of the relevant acts and legislation clauses.

Universal credit and housing benefit

Part 4 of the Act relates to the use of universal credit and housing benefit in relation to rented accommodation.

It covers how housing benefit may be paid to a third party, for instance, a landlord, the handling of housing benefit by the local authority, and the role of rent officers in relation to universal credit and housing benefit.

Much of this section of the original Act has been altered in accordance with the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, the Welfare Reform Act 2012, and the Local Government Act 2003.

Conduct of tenants

Part 5 of the Act relates to the conduct of tenants with an emphasis on social rental accommodation provided by local authorities and housing associations. This section covers introductory tenancies, repossession, secure and assured tenancies, and injunctions against anti-social behaviour.

Introductory tenancies

A tenancy that is deemed to be introductory is not assured until a probation period has been successfully met by the tenant. What this means for the tenant is that until they have passed the initial probation period, they do not have the same protection against their tenancy being cancelled by the landlord.

The probation period generally lasts for one year, with the chance of being extended for a further six months under certain circumstances.

Should the tenant pass the probation period, they may then proceed into a full, assured tenancy.

This section also lays out:

  • how a landlord may end an introductory tenancy and take possession of their property
  • what a notice of proceedings for possession must contain
  • how a review may be arranged
  • the effects of a possession
  • what happens on the death of a tenant and persons who may succeed the tenant
  • repairs to the property
  • flexible tenancies

Repossession in regard to a secure tenancy or an assured tenancy

This section lays out the reasons that a secure or assured tenancy may be ended by a landlord in relation to the tenant’s conduct (e.g. causing a nuisance to a neighbour, being convicted of using the property for illegal purposes, or domestic violence), the process of seeking possession (ending the tenancy), and tenant notice requirements.

Injunctions against anti-social behaviour

This section details how a landlord may seek an injunction against a tenant for anti-social behaviour towards other tenants, neighbours, persons in the local area, the landlord or the landlord’s employees.

It is not required that the anti-social behaviour take place in the property, and an injunction may still be applied for where there has merely been a threat of carrying out anti-social behaviour, such as a threat of violence against the landlord.

Generally, a landlord will apply for an injunction through the local courts, providing written evidence to support their application.

The Housing Act 1996 requires that a copy of the application is forwarded to the tenant no less than 2 days before the application comes to court.

Allocation of housing accommodation

Part 6 of the Act relates to the provision of social rented accommodation by local authorities, including:

  • eligibility for social rented accommodation
  • the housing register
  • how to apply for social rented accommodation
  • allocation schemes

The Welsh aspect of the allocation of housing accommodation is mainly covered by Part 1 of the Act.

This section of the Act was later amended by the Homelessness Act 2002 and the Localism Act 2011.

Homelessness

Part 7 of the Act covers the issue of homelessness. This section was later altered by the introduction of The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 which placed greater responsibility on local authorities to prevent homelessness.

Rules and requirements laid out in The Housing Act 1996, The Homelessness Act 2002, and The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 include:

  • deciding which local authority is responsible for a homeless person
  • the responsibilities and duties of the local authority to help the homeless
  • how to make an application
  • what accommodation a local authority must provide – social or private
  • how to appeal against a decision
  • a local authority’s responsibility to carry out a regular review of homelessness in their area and to put in place a related strategy

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