Meaning of ‘sheltered accommodation’ for housing benefit purposes
For the purposes of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 the Court of Appeal held that a man with severe learning difficulties resided in sheltered accommodation and was therefore entitled to have his share of the costs for fuel and cleaning included in his eligible rent.
It is not essential for accommodation to be ‘sheltered’ for it to be self-contained or have a warden. In Oxford City Council v Basey  EWCA Civ 115 (link to pdf of the judgment here) the claimant has severe learning disabilities, is a tenant of a housing association property and is one of four tenants of the property, all of whom have similar difficulties. Each tenant has their own bedroom and they share one kitchen, one bathroom, two toilets, two sitting rooms and one other room. Care, support and supervision by staff are provided 24 hours per day, although only for two to three hours daily on a one to one basis. There are usually two staff members on duty in the morning, three in the afternoon, and two overnight (one awake and one sleeping). There is a room reserved for the exclusive use of staff.
The council had determined that Mr Basey did not reside in sheltered accommodation for the purpose of the 2006 regulations and was not, therefore, entitled to have his share of the costs of fuel and cleaning included in his eligible rent for the purpose of calculating the amount of his housing benefit. The First-tier Tribunal had upheld that decision, having found that sheltered accommodation needed to be self-contained and have a warden or manager and an alarm system. The Upper Tribunal thought that they had wrongly emphasised the presence of a warden/manager and an alarm system and found that sheltered accommodation was that provided for vulnerable people and that if, for reasons relating to the nature of that vulnerability, there were resident or other staff on hand, there was no reason why there had to be a warden/manager and/or an alarm system. The Upper Tribunal therefore concluded that Mr Basey had occupied sheltered accommodation for the purpose of the Regulations.
APPEAL DISMISSED: Once it was accepted that self-containment and the services of a warden, while commonly found, are not “essential” features of sheltered accommodation, it was very difficult to see why the accommodation occupied by Mr Basey did not fall within the descriptions of very sheltered or extra care sheltered accommodation provided by Help the Aged and Directgov, which were put forward as examples of sheltered accommodation in common usage. Parliament did not choose to define sheltered accommodation and the Courts should not impose a prescriptive definition upon an inherently flexible concept which can take many different forms. The local authority’s emphasis upon the need for the occupier to be able to live independently was misconceived. The statutory housing benefit scheme gave preferential treatment to the occupiers of sheltered accommodation who were entitled to be paid housing benefit in respect of the costs of fuel for, and cleaning of, both common rooms and communal areas. The Regulations provide, by Schedule 1 Pt 1 para.1 (g), that any service charges not connected with the provision of adequate accommodation were excluded from eligibility for housing benefit, but communal rooms were necessary in sheltered accommodation in order to provide adequate accommodation for those who were likely to need sheltered accommodation. The Upper Tribunal’s conclusion that the type of accommodation occupied by Mr Basey was sheltered accommodation for the purpose of the Regulations was, accordingly, correct.