Latest statistics indicate that there are some 40,000 people occupying almshouses countrywide and that that number is growing. Most if not all parliamentary constituencies will contain at least one estate of almshouses. Therefore, and notwithstanding the absence of any particular intra-jurisdictional dispute, it should be the concern of every dutiful MP that a significant number of their constituents are deprived of due process and human rights apropos the roof over their heads.
It should also be the concern of all dutiful MPs that the law currently applying to almshouses has become a legal morass for all parties, in that, as we have demonstrated elsewhere on this website, a determined and resourceful resident might now sap the ivory tower of trustee insusceptibility on a number of salient points. In the interest of good order, the law needs to be moderated accordingly.
The contact details of your local MP can be found here:
You can use the following template, pluralizing the text where applicable if you are writing as joint occupants. We recommend you write in ‘hard copy’ rather than use email; also individual letters tend to carry more weight than ‘round robins’.
[MP’s name], House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Dear [MP’s name],
The tenuous tenure of almshouses
I write on behalf of myself and some 40,000 fellow almshouse residents throughout England and Wales. The issue is insecurity in old age.
The default legal position is that we are licensees without right of audience in any court. The defining case is Gray v Taylor 1998. The (supposed) Protection from Eviction Act 1977 affords us a mere 30-day stay of execution. The exclusion of Article 13 from the Human Rights Act effectively consigns us to outlawry.
All this allows some trustees to assume ‘grace and favour’ pretensions. It is not surprising therefore that not a few of us have found ourselves the playthings of hubristic trustees. They can act secure in the knowledge that they do not have to make a case and that their trespasses will go unreported (the only discernible portal for fragmentary reportage is the website of The Almshouse Residents Action Group).
Firstly, I discern that our tenure stems from the will of the historical benefactors, not the ‘grace and favour’ pretensions of transitory trustees.
Secondly, there is a provision in the Housing Acts which allows trustees to proffer defensible tenancies without compromising their custodianship of charitable objects.
Thirdly, we have since become citizens of the EU accruing, inter alia, a right of audience and a right to reasons, under the terms of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Fourthly, there have been several judgements in both domestic and European courts which, given some shift of legal axes, seem to complex the default position. For instance, one domestic judgment beneficially reached for rights accruing under global UN conventions.
Fifthly, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – an instrument ratified by HMG – categorises almshouse licensors as purveyors of inadequate housing!
Ostensibly the scene is set for a human rights showdown. However, we, collectively, have not the knowledge, experience, resources nor, in many cases, the energy to embark upon crusading lawsuits. What is needed is some tweak of primary legislation that will not only give us concrete equality of arms with trustees but which will clear the air for all parties concerned.
Consequently, and on behalf of myself and my fellow beneficiaries, I solicit your representations in parliament and elsewhere to bring us in from the outlawry in which we currently languish.
FOR THE RECORD, HERE’S AN EARLIER VERSION OF THE DRAFT LETTER. (We recommend you use the above later version):
As an almshouse resident I am alarmed and concerned that I find myself outside the protection of the law in matters of housing. Our predicament stems from the iniquitous Gray v Taylor judgement of 1998. Since then the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 has afforded us no material protection beyond a 30-day stay of execution; indeed it can burden us with the costs of eviction!
It is in the nature of the present cryptic almshouse licensor-licensee nexus that disputes will go unreported. Thus it cannot complacently be said – as it has been – that “current arrangements are working well”. Before the advent of The Almshouse Residents Action Group website (which we commend to you) disputes only came to light by way of press publicity. As the record shows, they were only the tip of an iceberg.
If almshouse licenses were upgraded to secure tenancies, this would bring us within the orbit of housing law and the protection of the courts. At the moment we are effectively outlawed. Until we win back our day in court an almshouse license is a license to intimidate. Indeed, according to UN Human Rights criteria all almshouse charities are purveyors of inadequate housing!
Contrary to accepted philosophy almshouse charities do have a statutory power under Schedule 2 Part II Ground 11 of the Housing Act 1985 to offer secure tenancies without compromising their charitable objects. The Law Commission has long been with us in this. In 2002 they said: we are not convinced that there remain sound policy arguments for the continued exclusion of the residents of almshouses from statutory regulation.” In 2006 they reiterated their 2002 proposals in a draft bill. Accordingly we petition (1) for these proposals to be carried into effect.
Where Human Rights could otherwise be invoked we are similarly outlawed. The only Human Right currently available to almshouse licensees is Article 13 – but this right was expressly excluded from the UK Human Rights Act. This means we would have to apply direct to the European Court for a fair hearing because the jurisdiction in which we languish provides none. Time would not be on our side. Accordingly we petition (2) for the retrospective inclusion of Article 13 into the Act (or indeed into any proposed Bill of Rights).
On behalf of myself, my contemporaries and those who come after us I ask for your help in obtaining relief via the above two levers. Until we win back our day in court and retrieve our human rights an almshouse license will continue to be a license to intimidate. (Note that this letter is not to be taken as indicative of any dispute, past, present or anticipated, between myself and trustees.
The above addresses the general predicament at law of all almshouse residents. If you have a specific issue with trustees, we recommend you do not enlist the influence of your local MP until you have given the trustees a fair opportunity to resolve the issue. If you encounter unreasonable intransigence or intimidation then by all means involve your MP. It would also help the general case if you would let us know the details so that we can add it to the list of disputes. Nothing we publish will disclose your identity unless we have your express permission.
UPDATE, MARCH 2014: You can now attach our situation report and petition entitled “STOP CHARITY LANDLORDS FROM BULLYING DEFENCELESS PENSIONERS”. It’s available as a Word doc and docx file and as a PDF. It can be had here.
From the same source you can also obtain the record of our correspondence with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing which you can enclose with your letter to the MP. This addresses HM government’s palpable lack of due diligence when making its periodic report on housing license arrangements. Note that the Human Rights thus violated stem from the UK’s membership of the UN. These are basic and inalienable rights which supervene those accruing to us by reason of our membership of the EU and the concomitant UK Human Rights Act.
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