Housing Alert

SHELTERED HOUSING RED ALERT! Are you contemplating moving into sheltered housing? Make sure it’s not an almshouse. If it is – pen poised to sign that tempting ‘Letter of Appointment? Our advice is – DON’T.

Don’t confuse almshouses with Sheltered Housing. An almshouse is the most un-sheltered house you could possibly end up in. A dog has more right to his kennel than you will have to your home. You’ll be nothing more than a lodger for the rest of your life, subject to eviction on a whim without any redress.

A learned judge has said – no less than four times in his judgment – that people will sign any document to keep a roof over their head. If it’s a case of an almshouse or Cardboard City for you, then so be it. If there’s a feasible alternative – TAKE IT.

If you don’t, you’ll be putting yourself into the clutches of a system that is clinging on to a malevolence unparalleled in social housing; namely, an unfettered power to dump pensioners out onto the street. Unique amongst Her Majesty’s subjects you’ll find yourself shut out from the protection of the law. You’ll have become a second class citizen – a housing outlaw. And you’ll have signed away your Human Rights.

And according to United Nations human rights criteria, almshouses as a system of housing currently categorise as inadequate by reason of insecurity of tenure. Would you want to put yourself into the clutches of A PURVEYOR OF INADEQUATE HOUSING?

Don’t misunderstand us. We’ll say this only once. We readily recognise that almshouses have provided refuge since medieval times and continue to provide a safety net for people in need. Many almshouse residents pass their retirement years in blissful ignorance of their legal predicament; because most almshouse trustee bodies exercise their rights and obligations with due diligence and commendable empathy. And every landlord has a right to retrieve dwellings from delinquent occupants and occupants who have become incapable of looking after themselves, and we do not seek to interfere with that right.

Almshouses, etymological derivation notwithstanding, are not grace-and-favour apartments to be gifted by a living hand; almshouse trustees are appointees constrained by an historical trust deed to deliver specified services. Untrammelled autonomy was never part of the concept.

It is the duty of almshouse trustees to search out, install and sustain eligible beneficiaries in accordance with the wishes of the historical benefactors. Many beneficiaries qualify for help by reason of commendable service in some field or other. They are not necessarily destitute. They are people who cannot reasonably afford to meet a particular need by purchasing at the full cost price the service which it is the charity’s duty to provide. They are not second class citizens. Citizenship is not a negotiable token to be traded in under duress.

So far, so good. However, an appeal court decision in 1998 gifted almshouse trustees a right to render their vulnerable charges homeless without ever being called to account. In truth, it is a right for which no trustee of integrity would ever feel the need. However, we have evidence that some trustee bodies have exercised that right or the malevolence that inheres in it – and it is in the nature of the secretive almshouse terms of occupancy that these instances are only the tip of an iceberg. It is no part of a trustee’s duty to subject beneficiaries to autocratic hubris. To paraphrase Lord Acton’s 1887 truism“…absolute power corrupts absolutely”— and there is evidence that the absolute power of almshouse trustees has induced some of them to lapse into unacceptable behaviour. Our aims here are firstly to save intending almshouse residents from the perils inherent in the iniquitous status quo and secondly to deliver sitting almshouse residents from those perils by ousting that status quo.

As any housing lawyer will tell you, it is naïve in the extreme to assume that no dispute will arise during an occupancy that can last for thirty years or more. For a start, the trustees who install you probably won’t be in post in ten year’s time. Times – and attitudes – change; and not necessarily for the better. We know of disputes arising from such trivial matters as parking; or feeding the birds. Trustees by definition are not the historical benefactors; but some trustees lose the plot and act as though they are. They mount their high horses, ride roughshod over the residents and intimidate genuine complainants into silence. And they can do it with impunity.

‘But I don’t see any record of disputes’, we hear you say. No wonder, say we; that’s because no resident in dispute can ever get a case into court. Neither do they have a platform from which to air their grievances. And aberrant trustees are hardly likely to publicise their autocratic excesses. Unless a dispute gets press publicity no-one will hear of it. It’s all done behind closed doors. Therefore the incidence of disputes is unknowable. Those disputes that came to our notice before we opened the website did so entirely due to press publicity. We have listed them at Known Disputes. They were only the tip of the iceberg. Go to the News Page for disputes and other developments since notified to us via the website.

‘But isn’t there a Protection from Eviction Act?’, we hear you say. Forget it, say we. Not only does this ingloriously misnamed Act offer the almshouse resident no protection at all, it can actually burden the evicted resident with the landlord’s costs! The predicament is much the same as that of a demoted tenant(look it up). Trustees’ applications for Possession Orders go before a county court judge-in-chambers who has no discretion in the matter; it’s a rubber stamp process. Don’t take out word for it, here’s a professional opinion:

 (We had a hyperlink to a document here but the authors – a landlord-oriented firm of solicitors – petulantly took it off their website and broke the link. Not that we’re overly bothered; the target document was merely confirmatory of our position – and we have a copy in our archive anyway. We doubt this will be the last link to go down when some used to hunting with the hounds find themselves to be running with the hare!)

Still going to sign that Letter of Appointment? Before you do – SEE A LAWYER!


Go now to Natural Justice