Bringing Disability to the Forefront: Highlighting the Work of the ENHR Disability and Housing Working Group by Dianne-Dominique Theakstone (University of Stirling)

Foreword by Jenny Hoolachan (University of St Andrews)

Despite decades of sociological work highlighting that ‘society’ and all that it encompasses is intersected by gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and a myriad of other facets, the relationships that these social structures have with housing are sometimes downplayed in favour of understanding the markets, policies and implications for suppliers and consumers.  Take disability, which is the focus of this post.  Recently, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the ‘bedroom tax’ is discriminatory against families with disabled children[1].  This decision followed a legal challenge by Paul and Susan Rutherford who require an additional bedroom in their home for overnight carers and the storage of specialist equipment needed for their severely disabled son.  Indeed, many challenges to the legality of the ‘bedroom tax’ policy have been based on the subject of disability, and quite rightly so.

However, disability only tends to enter public discussions of housing when it relates to financial matters or changes in legislation.  While specific cases, such as that of the Rutherfords, certainly help to bring disability to the forefront of policy debates, the full extent of the disability-housing relationship remains largely hidden.  What follows is an overview of the work of the ENHR Disability and Housing Working Group which is still in the relatively early stages of development.  The post provides a small flavour of the scale and depths of the challenges that disabled people face when navigating a world that has been built for non-disabled people.  It is the hope of the Working Group that promotion of their work will attract the attention of fellow researchers, funding bodies, policymakers and the general public in order to advance the housing rights and improve the experiences of people with disabilities.

 

The Disability and Housing Working Group by Dianne-Dominique Theakstone (University of Stirling)

In 2014 the European Network for Housing Research (ENHR), Disability and Housing Working Group began. This post shares the activities of the Working Group over the past 18 months and upcoming plans. Comments and suggestions are welcome around events, knowledge exchange or research collaborations.

The ENHR 2014 conference enabled the Chairs to hold a kick-start meeting for the proposed Disability and Housing Working Group. We recognise that a lot of effort is required to raise the profile of disability within international housing research strategies and debates. The following central themes were identified at the meeting:

  • Disabled people and their housing conditions, housing preferences, housing design, access to housing services, legal rights (housing and anti-discrimination), housing options and accessible environments.
  • Housing research on disability that adopts a holistic approach towards impairment (loco-motional, sensory and cognitive).
  • Promote application of interdisciplinary perspectives to housing research and practice which is related to disabled people.
  • Examination of central concepts to disability and housing such as ‘empowerment’, ‘user-led’, ‘vulnerability’ or ‘special needs’.

The working group held its first workshop at the ENHR 2015 conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Diverse papers were submitted from representatives from Russia, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, Germany, Scotland and Norway. These can be viewed at: http://www.enhr.net/enhrconferences.php

The aim of the Working group is to stimulate debate around the policy and practice implications of disability and housing research. An evidence base will enable a holistic perspective across countries. For example, at the 2015 ENHR conference the papers submitted to this working group exhibited diverse insights into the living conditions of disabled people across Europe.

Solvar Wago & Karin Hoyland’s paper highlighted that the Norwegian Disability Discrimination and Accessibility Act (2009) requires adjustment to take into account the needs of different groups of disabled people within society.

María Aránzazu Calzadilla Medina delivered a law perspective in relation to disabled peoples’ housing in Spain. The paper critically assessed the various amendments that the Spanish Horizontal Property Act 49/1960 (21st July) has gone through which revealed that progress is going in the right direction. However, barriers still exist where it is not a right to have freedom to access a person’s home or work environment.  Furthermore, payment schemes for adaptations are subject to variable supplementary fees and there has been opposition from communities for potentially expensive costs.

Andreas Plum’s paper illustrated the lived experiences of disablement. This paper presented results from a survey of disabled people in Dresden. It concluded that there is a need for more barrier-free housing and living spaces, especially with current ageing populations with associated increasing impairment levels.

In the Netherlands, Clarine van Oel outlined the ways practice can be improved through the user perspective. Her research demonstrated a methodology involving 3D virtual reality preferences whereby participants with dementia chose colour schemes, surface finish and space dimensions of a care-home hallway. Results indicated areas of conflict between the preferences of users and caregivers. For example, the former preferred a white or warm colour scheme, while caregivers’ assumed a warm colour scheme would feel more welcoming.

Aleksandra Burdyak discussed the emotional implications for disabled people living in inaccessible homes in Russia. Attention was particularly drawn to the challenges of estimating the numbers of disabled people through national statistics, different definitions of disability and potential areas where disabled people can be missed from data sets. Results from a telephone survey showed that disabled people in Russia experience social isolation, low incomes and high medical costs. Aleksandra Burdyak concluded that policy is required for future barrier free homes/environments and to address the emotional wellbeing of disabled citizens.

In Thailand, Sasicha Sukkay’s paper outlined the benefits of joint working. She explained that collaboration between physiotherapists, architects and disabled people, has helped to identify the need for improved accessibility standards within bedrooms and bathrooms. This work will be presented to the Thai Government to shape future policy.

Finally, Dianne-Dominique Theakstone presented a proposition of a Citizenship of Humanity. This emerged from a comparative study of disabled peoples’ access to independent living in Scotland and Norway. The Citizenship of Humanity model addressed the need for disabled peoples’ access to independent living, in policy and practice, to be facilitated at micro, meto and macro levels of societies.

The discussions that followed these papers highlighted the following issues:

  • The need for policies or guidelines to incorporate the needs of sensory and cognitive impairment groups, as well as those who have loco-motional impairments.
  • Accessible housing contributes towards prevention of health conditions which may have arisen, for example, through falls.
  • More work is required to promote a holistic perspective where accessible housing is located in accessible environments with accessible services and accessible public transport.
  • Accessible housing should not solely be perceived as wheelchair user specificity, as suitability for the needs of other disabled people or families should be recognised.
  • Projects should ensure that research methods are evaluated for accessibility (not just wheelchair accessibility – see previous point).
  • Research plays an important role to enable users’ voices to be heard by caregivers, frontline organisations and policy-makers.

Future plans

The Co-Chairs would like to thank David Thomson for his participation as an intern with the Disability and Housing Working Group. David will be providing invaluable IT and administrative support. To find out more about his work visit: www.thomsondesign.net.

For the ENHR conference 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, we will welcome papers that fit the central theme(s) of the working group and that are based on qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods research. Theoretical papers are strongly encouraged that might potentially shape the future research in this field. The working group would support ongoing collaborations with the goal of fostering future joint publications and project proposals. Hopefully this will raise the profile of disability as a distinct significant area within housing studies.

Connections shall be made with other conferences such as the Disability Studies 2016 conference held at Lancaster University, UK; as well as the Nordic Network on Disability Research (NNDR). The NNDR will be held on 3rd-5th May 2017 in Orebro Sweden and we will be keen to submit a paper, poster or symposium on behalf of the Working Group. Further information can be found at this link: http://www.oru.se/jps/nndr2017/

Finally, I have now set up a Facebook page where people can keep up-to-date with the ongoing work of the group.  This can be found at https://www.facebook.com/DHWgroup/

 

By Dianne-Dominique Theakstone (University of Stirling)

d.d.theakstone2@stir.ac.uk

[1] The ruling was also based on the bedroom tax being deemed discriminatory against victims of domestic violence.

A Return to Purer Waters? The Supreme Court Re-Casts the Pereira Test by Jed Meers (University of York)

In his oral arguments in the recent Supreme Court decision in Hotak, Jan Luba QC argued that ‘the safest course when dealing with a statute is to drink from its pure waters.’[1] He was talking about s.189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996, which details the ‘priority need’ hurdle homeless applicants must navigate to be owed a housing duty by their Local Authority.

Another post on this blog has outlined s,189(1)(c) and the problems with its interpretation through the so-called Pereira Test. The approach taken was to assess the applicant’s vulnerability against that of an ordinary street homeless person, which in turn led many homeless applicants who plainly appeared to be in need of assistance – such as Mr Ajilore – to be denied a housing duty under s.193 Housing Act 1996. This position had come under sustained criticism for moving far beyond the ‘pure waters’ of the statute, and creating discretionary space for the infiltration of considerations absent from the original intentions of the legislation.

However, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has reconsidered the meaning of ‘vulnerable’ under s.189(1)(c), ruling that its interpretation should be revised.

The facts of the three claimants (outlined in detail in paras.19-33) each turn on a particular element of the Pereira Test. In his lead judgment, Lord Neuberger outlined the three key issues addressed in the case: (i) whether the assessment of vulnerability requires an exercise in comparability, and if so, to whom; (ii) whether support from others can be taken into account when assessing vulnerability; and (iii) what role, if any, does the Public Sector Equality Duty under the s.149 Equality Act 2010 play. I will deal with each of these.

Firstly, the judgment is clear that ‘vulnerability’ necessitates some exercise of comparability, as an adjective which carries ‘a necessary implication of relativity’ (para.51), akin to the assessment of being ‘tall’ (para.92). Clearly, comparison demands a comparator. Here, the Court dispensed with the ordinary street homeless person, which was considered to be against the original intentions of the legislation and lead to ‘arbitrary and unpredictable outcomes’ (para.56). In other words, in the use of a street homeless person as a comparator, the test was assessing vulnerability using an already incredibly vulnerable benchmark. Instead, the Court assessed that an ‘ordinary person who is in need of accommodation’ (para.59) was the appropriate comparator.

The question in interpreting s.189(1)(c) therefore, is – simpliciter- whether the applicant would be, when homeless, significantly more at risk of harm than an ordinary person in need of accommodation (para.52). Perhaps with some of the more ornate constructions of comparators by Local Authorities in mind, the Court was clear that this ‘ordinary person’ is: ‘robust and healthy’ (para.71), made without reference to the resources available to the Local Authority (para.39), and cannot be formed from the ‘very dangerous’ use of statistics (para.43).

Secondly, the majority of the Court considered that taking into account support from third parties was a relevant factor which flows from the ‘contextual and practical’ nature of s.189(1)(c) (para.62), albeit with the requirement that such support would – if it were to mitigate a finding of priority need status – have to be provided on a ‘consistent and predictable basis’ (para.65).

The final key issue is the role played by the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). The judgment highlighted it as ‘complementary’ duty, requiring a sharp focus on: (i) whether the applicant has a protected characteristic under Chapter 1 of the 2010 Act, (ii) the extent of this, (iii) the likely effect of the protected characteristic in the broader context of the applicant’s position if they were to be made homeless, and (iv) whether this results in them being ‘vulnerable’ (para.78).

The ruling of the Court is a long-awaited decision which is likely to have far-reaching consequences. There are two points worth noting here.

Firstly, the revised judicial interpretation coupled with the complementary PSED, appears to enhance obligations towards those with disabilities. Indeed, it may well be the case that the findings of fact inherent in the process to claim DLA (or PIP) would prima facie render the applicant vulnerable. Even for lower rate components, the factual tests inherent – such as being unable to walk outdoors ‘without guidance or supervision from another person most of the time’ (s.73(1)(d) SSCBA 1992) – would appear to indicate that such an applicant, when homeless, would be significantly more at risk of harm than a ‘robust and healthy’ (para.71) ordinary person in need of accommodation (para.52).

Secondly, there is clear anxiety in the lead judgment to ‘emphasise the primacy of the statutory words’ (para.59), and consequently avoid the construction of already highly vulnerable ‘street homeless’ comparators. However, this inevitably leads to the question of what characteristics – if any – such a comparator possesses, and how ‘significantly more at risk of harm’ should be interpreted with reference to them (para.51).

Though this judgment is a positive step forward from the old downward drag of Pereira, the spaces it leaves in its re-casting will result in significant further litigation. In emphasising the original meaning of the statute, the Supreme Court has attempted to return to ‘purer waters,’ but quite how the revised interpretation of s.189(1)(c) will work in practice within Local Authorities already straining under huge financial pressures, remains to be seen.

[1] Incidentally, for those looking to fill a quiet evening, it is now possible to watch all UKSC hearings on their ‘on demand’ service. The footage of Jan Luba QC’s remarks can be see here https://www.supremecourt.uk/watch/uksc-2013-0234/151214-am.html at 58:04 – 58:17.

 

By Jed Meers, University of York

Buy-to-Let on Steroids: Crowdfunding the Property Market By Jed Meers (University of York)

McKee and Moore have recently posted on this blog about the problems associated with ‘generation rent’ – namely, those young (but increasingly, older) people who find themselves excluded from home-ownership. More stringent mortgage requirements have given banks an appetite for high deposits, stable earnings and a strong credit history, which renders access to the benefits of a newly buoyant property market out-of-reach for swaths of the population.

However, the desire to make money from bricks-and-mortar has led to a raft of new companies entering the market which offer financial instruments which bypass these institutional controls and allow those previously excluded to invest in property. Even if you cannot afford to own your own home, you can now easily buy a slice of a Buy-to-Let property online from as little as £500. The unrelenting financialisation of housing has come full circle – even those in ‘generation rent’ sitting in a Buy-to-Let property themselves, can now invest in one of their own.

These companies pull these invests outside of the control of banks and other institutions by making creative use of ‘crowdfunding’ platforms, where individuals can invest in start-up businesses or other projects and gain a share of the company; a process made famous by websites like www.kickstarter.com and www.indiegogo.com.

In property investment, this same structure is utilised. Investors are are pooled together to fund a ‘company’ (a special purpose vehicle formed for the sole purpose of investing in the property) which then purchases a buy-to-let property and secures the investors’ shares against its equity. The proceeds of the rent and any capital appreciation (or depreciation) is then shared between them, and the company takes either a percentage fee, a portion of the rent, a slice of the capital appreciation on sale (assuming such appreciation exists), or all three. Although the ‘crowdfunding’ sector is dominated by investments in debt and equity to start-up companies (estimated to be worth a total of £1.6 billion in the UK this year), increasingly, companies are maneuvering around the same regulations to create these bastardised models for the shared ownership of real-estate assets.

One of companies at the forefront of this industry is the House Crowd. Their introductory video outlines the procedure:

 

In bringing simple online access to Buy-to-Let investment to those who would never normally be able to access the sector, these products have created a secondary market which has the potential to both dramatically change the way people invest in property, and the formation of the private rental market. There is a lot to say about the potential impact these financial products, but in the tight confines of this blog post there are two points worth highlighting.

 

  1. The Absence of Regulation

The Financial Conduct Authority now regulates ‘crowdfunding’ platforms in the UK, but none of the regulations are designed specifically for the form of property investment highlighted above. Instead, they class companies such as the House Crowd or Property Moose as ‘investment-based crowdfunding’ – effectively, the regulations are blind to the existence of the property, instead focusing on the purchase of ‘shares’ in the company which facilitates the transaction. In short, somebody investing in a house is seen the same as someone investing in a startup company. There are other regulations imposed on equity-based investments by the Companies Act and the Financial Services and Marketing Act, but these are easily navigated by ensuring potential investors sign-up to the service (and agree to various criteria) before being able to view the properties on offer.

There is a growing appetite, particularly at the EU level, for re-assessing the regulatory framework these companies operate in. However, the input into this process has been devoid of any consideration the role property plays with the focus entirely on investing in ‘companies’ – not a single mention of the use of these financial tools in this way is in the the most recent European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) advice, nor following the European Commission’s public consultation on the issue.

Much of the due diligence which underscores good practice in this emerging industry is undertaken voluntarily by the firms themselves – not prescribed by law. Property management in particular has the potential to be a risky activity. The companies themselves decide which properties to float for investment on the cloud – the vetting and management of these rests with the company themselves or the agents they appoint. It does not follow that those skilled at the creation of financial products will be skilled at the maintenance of a property portfolio.

 

  1. The industry looks set to tip

The industry is growing at an extraordinary rate. Equity based crowdfunding investments in the UK rose to nearly £100,000 per day in the second quarter of 2014 – a rise of more than 120% on the first quarter. The crowdfunding market as a whole has grown approximately 600% in the last calendar year. The draw of very high potential returns in comparison to more traditional investments – the House Crowd advertises returns of up to 20% per annum – coupled with the British love-affair with property, promises to make the sector particularly appealing to those seeking to draw down on their pension pots following the Pensions Tax Bill or looking for alternatives to the record-low returns available in savings accounts.

A key persuasive factor with these returns in comparison to previous smaller-scale Buy-to-Let investments, is that there is some liquidity and diversification available – albeit somewhat limited. For instance, investors can sell their ‘shares’ in the property to others investing on the platform, and smaller investments allow for them to spread their portfolio across multiple properties to mitigate the exposure to risk. This comes at a cost. Creating fungibility in the system requires the dynamics between the multiple investors to be managed by the platform – for instance, if there are 12 people with shares in the property, and 6 want to sell, or if a group of investors wish to change an aspect of the management of the property. The mechanisms for resolving these issues raise some interesting academic questions about shared ownership.

Academia has hardly even begun to consider the impact of ‘crowd-funding’ on the property market – these investment-based platforms only begin to scratch the surface of what is possible and what is happening elsewhere in the world. It is hoped that as this industry grows, the regulatory framework around it steps up to the mark and recognises the profound impact these investment options could have for the nature of the property market – and the role that banks and other institutions can play in it – in the UK.

Jed Meers, PhD researcher, University of York (@jed_meers)

Housing Law and the Welfare State – the role of ‘law’ in governing state-citizen relations

The Downward Drag of Pereira: Ongoing disputes with Vulnerability By Jed Meers, University of York

In 2012, Nicola Sturgeon heralded the scrapping of ‘priority need’ assessments for homeless households in Scotland.[1] She described the change – which effectively results in anybody unintentionally homeless being owed the full housing duty – as ‘the most progressive homelessness legislation in Europe.’ In the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum, a great deal has been written about policy divergences north and south of the border. Sadly, for those of us in England, recent cases before the High Court and Court of Appeal bring into sharp relief how brutal our treatment of the homeless can be in comparison.

In England and Wales, one of the hurdles homeless applicants still need to navigate to be owed the full housing duty is the ‘priority need’ requirement. They can do so by demonstrating they fall into one of the categories outlined in s.189 Housing Act 1996 – a standard poor law inspired barometer of pregnant women, those with children, or people in old age – with a separate catch-all category of being ‘vulnerable’ for some ‘other special reason.’ There has been a gradual decline in the numbers accepted under this category; a trend demonstrated in figure one.[2]

 

Untitled

It is this construction of ‘vulnerable’ which can generate a downward drag on those accepted as being in priority need. The term is not defined anywhere in the legislation itself, which has, unsurprisingly, led to a smorgasbord of legal appeals grappling with the concept and attempts by the Courts to define and refine the term on multiple occasions. The current position – stemming from Bowers [3] and given added gloss by Pereira [4] – is whether the applicant ‘when homeless, [would be] less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person so that injury or detriment to him will result when a less vulnerable man would be able to cope without harmful effects.’[5]

There are two key issues to note in its interpretation. Firstly, following Johnson,[6] the test concerns an ‘ordinary homeless person’ who is already homeless – not somebody who is non-homeless who then becomes homeless. Secondly, with particular significance to recent appeals, the ‘ordinary homeless person’ is a ‘necessarily imprecise’[7] hypothetical construction which is largely left to the imagination of the local authority. It is assumed that ‘a busy local housing authority will have a vast experience of the range of homeless persons,’[8] and as such, they are best placed to create the appropriate comparator.

The problems this test can cause have been ably demonstrated in some recent case law. The judgment in Hotak[9] serves as an example of the Catch-22 situation which can present itself when Local Authorities stretch the Pereira test outwards. Here, the appellant had learning difficulties, a history of self-harm, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He relied on his brother for daily support, including ensuring his personal hygiene, changing clothes, cooking meals and handling his finances.[10] The Local Authority decided that he was not more vulnerable than the ‘ordinary homeless person,’ as he had the support of his brother – something homeless persons rarely enjoy.

Their decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal, who saw support from others as being part of the ‘intensely fact sensitive and practical’[11] process of assessing vulnerability. The judgment was applied more recently in Kanu,[12] where the applicant suffered from Hepatitis B and haemorrhoids, and family support resulted in them falling foul of the Pereira test. However, could the facts of Mr Hotak’s case not be taken both ways? If he did not receive support, could it be argued that he is living independently and therefore is no less vulnerable than an ‘ordinary homeless person’?

This downward drag effect is particularly clear when Local Authorities draw on questionable evidence to support their construction of this ‘ordinary homeless person’ comparator. A good example was provided earlier this month by the Court of Appeal in Ajilore,[13] where the applicant suffered from hepatitis B, had a history of class-A drug use, and was suicidal. The Local Authority officer found that he was not in priority need, in part due to his assertion that ‘it was not unusual for street homeless people to have thoughts of self-harm and suicide,’[14] an assertion supported by a ‘report published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 [which] confirmed that homeless people do have higher self-harm incidents than the ordinary population.’ In short, a lot of homeless persons want to kill themselves, so that does not render an applicant any different from an ‘ordinary homeless person.’

However, the Court found that this ‘report’ was not a published piece of research at all. In fact, it was a letter sent to the Journal by a General Practitioner, which detailed the result of a survey of 116 of their patients. In this small sample, 7.2% had an episode of self-harm or suicide attempts. This did not prevent the Court upholding his decision, deciding instead that ‘the statistics were used by the reviewing officer in order to back up the conclusions that he had drawn from his own knowledge of an ordinary street homeless’ person.[15] Effectively, the statistics were for the purposes of illustration, instead of providing evidence per se.

The same approach has been used recently to justify denying a housing duty to those who have used drugs. In Johnson v Solihull,[16] the applicant was a recovering heroin addict who had been in-and-out of prison since the age of 16. The Local Authority did not consider him ‘vulnerable’ in line with s.189, citing in their decision letter a study by Homeless Link finding that 92% of homelessness services work with people who use drugs. The logic goes that a lot of homeless people are recovering drug users, or are still using, so that does not render an applicant any different from an ‘ordinary homeless person.’

The picture as it stands appears to be at odds with the purpose behind both the Pereira Test and s.189 Housing Act 1996. The principle is to ensure that those who are more vulnerable receive assistance, but the formation of a comparator which is already very vulnerable – and supported by what can often be shaky evidence – pushes the test downwards and denies the housing duty in questionable cases. Hotak is on appeal and will be heard at the Supreme Court on 10th December, which will be the first time the highest court has considered this issue. Hopefully they will take the opportunity to re-assess the test as it currently stands, and halt its downward drag.

Jed Meers, University of York  (@jed_meers)

 

References

[1] See Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012

[2] Data taken from the Department of Communities and Local Government

[3] R v Waveney DC Ex p. Bowers [1983] Q.B. 238

[4] R. v Camden LBC Ex p. Pereira (1999) 31 H.L.R. 317

[5] Pereira [329] per LJ Hobhouse

[6] Johnson v Sollihul [2013] EWCA Civ 752

[7] Ibid [18] per LJ Arden

[8] Tetteh v Kingston upon Thames Royal LBC [2004] EWCA Civ 1775 [21] per LJ Gage

[9] Hotak v Southwark LBC [2013] EWCA Civ 515

[10] Hotak [4] per LJ Pitchford

[11] Ibid [39] per LJ Pitchford

[12] Kanu v Southwark LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 1085

[13] Ajilore v Hackney LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 1273

[14] Ajilore [22] per LJ Gloster

[15] Ajilore [39] per LJ Gloster

[16] Johnson v Solihull [2013]

 

 

Using the Social Security System to Deliver Housing Policy By Louise Cheung, University of Southampton

The interaction between housing policy and social security law has been my primary research interest for the last few years. My PhD research has looked at several overarching themes to unpick this topic, including; government measures to prevent repossession, the ideology of homeownership, and the state versus individual responsibility for housing costs. The political basis behind the ideology of homeownership which takes into account financial investment considerations in conjunction with the x -factor benefits of home is of particular interest, and it has been my aim to marry this together with the state’s approach towards social security law and policy. The idea of home in law has been an ever increasing popular research area in property law. To gain an understanding of the nebulous idea of home; I would refer to the excellent account of the conceptualisation of home in law by Fox O’Mahony as primary reference material.

In the UK, it is fair to say that we are a nation of homeowners and this is a product of a string of governmental policies throughout the 20th and 21st century. I have found particularly interesting the contrast from the UK and continental European countries where renting is the main tenure, and the reasons why. For an insightful perspective on this, I would refer to a superb article by Matthew Phillips about why most Germans rent. In particular, the development of social housing and its relative decline since the 1980s is a pet interest of mine when contemplating the notion of tenure. There are many fascinating accounts of the history of social housing, including, Cole and Furbey’s ‘The Eclipse of Council Housing’.

The key means-tested social security welfare benefits that I discuss in my research are Housing Benefit for renters, and Support for Mortgage Interest for mortgaged homeowners. The increasingly residualised nature of the government safety net housing costs is a key aspect of my thesis’ discussion of these welfare benefits for housing costs. With the upcoming Universal Credit reforms, these benefits will be shelved, but the theory driving the use of tax payers’ money for the use of these welfare benefits for housing in both tenures remains relevant. The eligibility criteria, the method of delivery and the use of bright line rules all give details about the policy direction which drives the regulation governing these social security benefits. Statistics about the number of welfare benefit recipients, analysis of the mention of housing in key political manifestos throughout the 20th century, and budget records are all primary material which are analysed to give this research further depth to the exploration of material, to come to functional and evidenced conclusions.

A great difficulty in my research has been pinpointing the exact nature of housing policy, and the key objectives which run through it. Through researching the history of housing policy, it seems to me that there are two common threads which guide housing policy in amongst some incoherent policy; (1) provide support for rented accommodation for low-income households (mostly as a safety net) (2) to promote homeownership to enhance individual responsibility for housing costs. It is these two guiding objectives which tie together the various discussions relevant to my research, alongside the key theoretical underpinning of my thesis, which is measuring the relative shifting of state towards individual responsibility for housing costs, be that in the rented or owner-occupier sector.

It seems to me that property law lends itself to discussion of policy. Property law is about governing relationships between land/structures and people, and policy drives relationships that people have with the land/structures, and the impact people have on land/structures. If you would like to read more about contemporary legal research in property, please visit our blog, where discussion pieces about property law’s relationship with sustainability, policy and social justice can be found. The blog was created through the gathering of early career academics at the postgraduate stream of the most recent Modern Studies in Property Law Conference in Liverpool. The property collective editors welcome blog posts from those interested in property research and its connection to sustainability, policy and social justice.

 

Louise Cheung (@MsLouiseCheung)

PhD Candidate, University of Southampton, Law School, Faculty of Business and Law

Property Graduate Trainee, Hertfordshire County Council