Formal Written Warnings and Final Written Warnings are what power-drunk trustees use to frighten little old ladies into compliance with. They do have a legitimate use (all landlords have a right to warn recalcitrant tenants) but that is not what this page is going to be about.
There are several scenarios wherein an almshouse resident can face summary eviction. The most critical is where trustees coerce residents into signing self-incriminating documents on pain of eviction. It is normally a two-stage process (‘formal written warning’ followed by ‘final written warning’). The effect of such signing is to bring the resident into greater jeopardy should the immediate dispute become protracted or should a later dispute arise. There is no local right of audience or appeal. That the concomitant accusations are forensically flawed or the trustees’ action precipitate or disproportionate is of no consideration; the process is quite arbitrary. The victim has no ‘equality of arms’ with his/her accusers, as would be the case with a secure tenancy.
The usual ploy is for trustees ‘in their opinion’ to impute vexatiousness to the resident. All they need is an opinion. It matters not whether that opinion is (1) forensically flawed or (2) the action based upon it is procedurally flawed (the first can loosely be interpreted as a jump to a conclusion in the absence of conclusive evidence. For instance, it could be said that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was forensically flawed specific to weapons of mass destruction. The second can be interpreted as consequent action that is precipitate (hasty) or disproportionate).
Another critical scenario is when a resident’s health deteriorates. We know of cases where trustees have tried to accelerate transfer to a care or nursing home despite the fact that he/she is being sustained in his/her home by a care package provided by outside agencies at no cost to the charity. We deem any such action to be a breach of trust and it should be resisted pugnis et calcibus.
A third scenario is when it is retrospectively determined that a resident has acceded to the benefice of a particular charity without having the necessary qualifications. Whether attributable to ingenuousness or false pretences, since such a case can be decided upon the facts it should not concern us here.
A fourth scenario is where a resident is fortunate enough to come in to such a sum of money or property that he/she no longer qualifies as an object of charity. The integrity of a consequent decision to evict would be actuarial, based upon the available figures. Since no material damage could accrue, here again we need not concern ourselves with such a scenario.
Reverting to the first scenario we have to consider how to advise a resident so beset (albeit it put us in the invidious position of making bullets for others to fire – but as a web presence only we have no alternative).
It is our opinion that intimidating residents into signing incriminating documents engages the criminal law of harassment and very possibly the civil law of defamation. It should follow that any county court presuming automatically to grant possession orders founded upon such documents or procedures is in violation, inter alia, of Article 8 Human Rights (vide Reynolds v United Kingdom  ECHR 437, March 2012, in the European Court of Human Rights as an intro) and can stand to be ruled out of order by a higher court in that criminal and civil remedies are extant and may be being actively pursued by the aggrieved resident. By such levers may aberrant trustees be publicly brought to account and to a requisite degree of rectitude.
As an interim solution we advise residents confronted by such purporting ‘written warnings’ to endorse them as follows pending further contemplated action:
“SIGNED UNDER DURESS; ALL MY RIGHTS EXPRESSLY RESERVED IN THIS JURISDICTION AND BEYOND“.
Thus should the toxicity of the tenor of the purporting incriminating document be negated in the eyes of third parties – and the aberrant trustees put on notice. Note that the “…and beyond” captures the prospect of an Article 13 Human Rights appeal to the European court. The endorsement should be dated and a photocopy of the offending document, so endorsed, retained by the resident.
All this is very well but we’re in uncharted legal waters and it’s a brave and resolute almshouse resident who would, in effect, gamble the roof over his/her head by building a case on the above rationales. Truly, the only certain solution would be for the Housing Minister to initiate legislation to retrieve almshouse residents from the legalistic oubliette in which they currently languish and give them equality of arms with their cavalier calumniators. We are working to that end.
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