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Charity Begins at Home!

Schofield Sweeney’s litigation team has acted pro bono for charity in a claim brought against it by a former resident.  The charity owns almshouses which provide accommodation to beneficiaries of the charity in return for payment of a weekly maintenance contribution.

Occupants of almshouses such as those owned by the charity do not have the benefit of security of tenure; that position having been reaffirmed in December 2016 by the Court of Appeal.  That decision confirmed the difference between legal possession and exclusive occupation.  If exclusive occupation equals legal possession, then a tenancy exists but if it does not there is no tenancy.  The Court of Appeal also ruled that in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights the denial of security of tenure to an almshouse occupant was a proportionate measure securing a balance between charities and occupants.

The former resident had a dispute over a loan with another resident at the almshouses.  A complaint was made that the claimant had been harassing that resident and the trust administrator wrote to the claimant asking him to leave the matter in the hands of the court (proceedings having been started) and reminding him that it was important that all residents live together as a harmonious community with a spirt of good neighbourliness.  The claimant described this as a “disgraceful letter” and told the District Judge dealing with the hearing some 14 months after its receipt that it “still haunted” him.  After writing a letter of complaint to the trustees, but before receiving the trustees’ response, the Claimant gave notice to leave the almshouses and did so three weeks later.  The trustees having found that the trust administrator had done nothing wrong the Claimant commenced proceedings in the County Court claiming £2,000.  The legal basis of his claim was unclear.  In addition to claiming that the actions or inactions of the trustees had forced him into leaving the almshouse, he claimed that there had been a breach of his human rights.

The trustees defended the claim.  The District Judge having heard the claimant’s explanation of his case concluded that there was no basis for it; he regarded what the claimant described as the “disgraceful letter” as one which the reasonable man in the street would have regarded as a perfectly proper letter for the trust administrator to write.  The claimant was unable to specify which of his human rights had been breached.  The Judge dismissed the claim.

It became clear that the claimant is a serial litigant in person who regards suing organisations as a lucrative hobby.  He expected the trustees to make a nuisance payment for him to drop his case as other defendants had done.  The trustees took the view that it would be wholly inappropriate to do so from a trust point of view and also as it would demonstrate a lack of support for the administrator whose letter was commended by the District Judge.

Please contact James Staton for further information

About the Author

James Staton

Partner

James is a Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution team and primarily handles commercial…

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