Coventry View

A litigation lawyer's perspective

Can I Come In? – Enforcing Suspended Possession Orders

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Now some of you may remember that in a previous life (when I really was Coventry Man) I worked for a firm who acted for some major social housing providers. They, unlike private landlords, usually let properties on assured tenencises (rather than assured shorthold tenancies) and played a much longer game. If a tenant was in arrears then they were quite prepared to let them pay off the arrears by instalments and sometimes they encouraged this by getting possession orders that were suspended on payment of say

“the current rent as it falls due plus the arrears of £800 at the rate of £100 a month, commencing on 1st November.

Now from time to time, indeed surprisingly often, the tenants would fall down on the payments and we would issue a warrant for possession and the tenent would be stirred up by a visit from the merry County Court bailiff who would give them an appointment for eviction in 4 weeks, and the form to apply to have the warrant suspended, so they could rush back to the court and explain to the cynical DJ why they had failed to keep the promises that they had made only a couple of months ago.

This might happen several times before either they got their priorities in order, or the DJ lost his remaining patience and the eviction went ahead.

Now it always surprised me that we could get the warrant issued just on our say-so. We signed the Request and cerified that they were in arrears and that was that. Indeed, if there were more complicated terms, such as the removal of a noisy dog, or the clearing of rubbish from the garden, we still just had to certify that they were in breach. No evidence was needed. Naturally our clients were fair about things, and my colleagues were decent honest and truthful, but I couldn’t help think that not everybody was like that, and that the courts were being very trusting, especially when more and more litigants were doing without lawyers and acting for themselves.

Anyway, things have changed now, and when the bits of the County Court Rules that governed enforcing judgments and warrants (rr25-26) were taken into the CPR in April 2014 (along with RSC 45-47) the powers that be took the opportunity of tigntening things up. I hadn’t noticed because I have moved on and don’t act for social housing providers any more, but it would seem that before you can apply for a warrant for possession after a suspended order you have to get permission by making an application supported with evidence.

The rules are in CPR 83.2 and spell things out pretty clearly:


This rule applies to—


warrants of possession.


A writ or warrant to which this rule applies is referred to in this rule as a “relevant writ or warrant”.


A relevant writ or warrant must not be issued without the permission of the court where—


under the judgment or order, any person is entitled to a remedy subject to the fulfilment of any condition, and it is alleged that the condition has been fulfilled; or


An application for permission may be made in accordance with Part 23 and must—


identify the judgment or order to which the application relates;


if the judgment or order is for the payment of money, state the amount originally due and, if different, the amount due at the date the application notice is filed;


where the case falls within paragraph (3)(c) or (d), state that a demand to satisfy the judgment or order was made on the person liable to satisfy it and that that person has refused or failed to do so;


give such other information as is necessary to satisfy the court that the applicant is entitled to proceed to execution on the judgment or order, and that the person against whom it is sought to issue execution is liable to execution on it.


An application for permission may be made without notice being served on any other party unless the court directs otherwise.

Now the problem is that there is no reference to any of this on the form of application for a warrant – N325 – which is the form needed under r83.26. Indeed there are several references in the order that make it look as if nothing has changed:

83.26 (1)

A judgment or order for the recovery of land will be enforceable by warrant of possession.


An application for a warrant of possession—


may be made without notice; and


must be made to—


the County Court hearing centre where the judgment or order which it is sought to enforce was made; or


the County Court hearing centre to which the proceedings have since been transferred.


Without prejudice to paragraph (7), the person applying for a warrant of possession must file a certificate that the land which is subject of the judgment or order has not been vacated.


When applying for a warrant of possession of a dwelling-house subject to a mortgage, the claimant must certify that notice has been given in accordance with the Dwelling Houses (Execution of Possession Orders by Mortgagees) Regulations 2010.


Where a warrant of possession is issued, the creditor will be entitled, by the same or a separate warrant, to execution against the debtor’s goods for any money payable under the judgment or order which is to be enforced by the warrant of possession.


In a case to which paragraph (6) applies or where an order for possession has been suspended on terms as to payment of a sum of money by instalments, the creditor must in the request certify—


the amount of money remaining due under the judgment or order; and


that the whole or part of any instalment due remains unpaid.

You always had to certfy this sort of thing. The difference is that you shouldn’t apply for the warrant at all before you get permission under r83.2(3). Easily overlooked.

Well, what happens if you get it wrong, and haven’t got permission and the court doesn’t notice? Because the issue of a warrant is dealt with by the court office, not the DJ, and court offices are busy understaffed places. Is your warrant invalid, and can the tenant get it set aside? Or can you rely on good old r3.10 that allows the court to fix things when there has been a mess-up by somebody:

3.10 Where there has been an error of procedure such as a failure to comply with a rule or practice direction –

(a) the error does not invalidate any step taken in the proceedings unless the court so orders; and

(b) the court may make an order to remedy the error.

There has been some interest in this among the frantically overworked heroes who represent tenants expecting immenent eviction, as some courts and DDJs had one idea and some had another, and there has now been a decision by the CA in Cardiff CC v Lee [2016] EWCA Civ 1034 .

The CA decided, after some navel-gazing,  that if the failure to apply for permission was “an error of procedure” then an application under r3.10 could put things right. In the particular case the tenant had applied to set aside the warrant anyway without success so the facts had been examined and nothing would be gained by going into things again, so the court below had been right to allow the warrant to go ahead.

Had the failure to apply been intentional however they might have taken a different view. And given there has now been a case in the CA on this point, which is being reported and commented on in interested circles (like here), it is going to be much harder for any landlords who merrily sign the N325 without getting permission to enforce first.

Applications can be made without notice and dealt with on the papers, but it will mean another delay of several weeks in most courts before the order can be enforced in any event.

As usual this is covered in the Nearly Legal blog in a lot more detail that I do here. However, you all know this now, so there’s now one less thing to trip over.

Written by Coventry Man

24/10/2016 at 18:09

Horton v Henry – The Final Round – The Pension Lives!

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I have written about this case and the associated one of Raithatha v Williamson previously here and here. Horton went on appeal to the CA and after a delayed hearing, and then a reserved judgment they have finally come to a conclusion, reported at  Horton v Henry [2016]EWCA Civ 989

And the result was an emphatic win for the preservation of the pension against the attempts by the Trustee in Bankruptcy to get at it.

For those of you who have a life outside these columns the problem they was addressing was whether a pension, which would normally be exempt (by s11 Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999) from seizure by a Trustee, could be attacked by making an income payment order under s310 Insolvency Act 1986 requiring the bankrupt who was not yet drawing his pension but was aged over 55 to require his pension provider to pay him a lump sum and then pay it over to the Trustee. And this was given a lot more bite by the abolition of the former 25% cap on lump sums by the pensions reforms in 2015.

There were conflicting decisions from Deputy High Court Judges – in Raithatha the court said you could make such an order, but in 2014 another Deputy High Court Judge said you couldn’t in Horton – and so the CA had to break the tie.

The CA Judgment – the Problem

The lead judgment was given by Gloster LJ and is clear and comprehensive, and compulsory reading for anyone who is relying on it.

The brief facts are that Mr Henry went bankrupt on his own petition with debts of up to £6.5m (the exact figure was disputed). He had generous pension provision, with a SIPP worth about £850,000 and 3 personal pensions giving rise to additional rights at various ages. He was 58 on bankruptcy, and wasn’t receiving any of his pension entitlements because he was being maintained by his family and had no need for them. The trustee made an application under s310 (see above) for orders requiring him to claim his lump sums and pension incomes, which he was entitled to do, being over 55, and pay them over to him. He refused, claiming that these benefits were not income to which he had “become entitled” and derived from funds which were not part of the “bankrupt’s estate” and so not susceptible to these orders. The Judge below agreed.

I won’t set out all the statutory provisions as they are set out in full in the CA judgment. But the argument went:

  • s306 Insolvency Act 1986 provides for the bankrupt’s estate to vest in the Trustee;
  • s283(1) IA defines the bankrupt’s estate as being all his property at the date of bankrupty, apart from certain exemptions, including property excluded by other legislation;
  • s91 Pensions Act 1995 excluded rights under occupatioal pension schemes;
  • s11 WRPA (see above) excluded rights for approved personal pension schemes (such as his);
  • s307 IA allowed the trustee to claim after-aquired assets, but not if they were excluded;
  • nor if they were income and so suceptible to a claim for an income payment order under s310;

s310 is key so I will set it out. It provides:

“Income payments orders

(1) The court may make an order (“an income payments order”) claiming for the bankrupt’s estate so much of the income of the bankrupt during the period for which the order is in force as may be specified in the order.

(1A) An income payments order may be made only on an application instituted–

(a) by the trustee, and

(b) before the discharge of the bankrupt.

(2) The court shall not make an income payments order the effect of which would be to reduce the income of the bankrupt when taken together with any payments to which subsection (8) applies below what appears to the court to be necessary for meeting the reasonable domestic needs of the bankrupt and his family.

(3) An income payments order shall, in respect of any payment of income to which it is to apply, either–

(a) require the bankrupt to pay the trustee an amount equal to so much of that payment as is claimed by the order, or

(b) require the person making the payment to pay so much of it as is so claimed to the trustee, instead of to the bankrupt.

(4) Where the court makes an income payments order it may, if it thinks fit, discharge or vary any attachment of earnings order that is for the time being in force to secure payments by the bankrupt.

(5) Sums received by the trustee under an income payments order form part of the bankrupt’s estate.

(6) An income payments order must specify the period during which it is to have effect; and that period–

(a) may end after the discharge of the bankrupt, but

(b) may not end after the period of three years beginning with the date on which the order is made.

(6A) An income payments order may (subject to subsection (6)(b)) be varied on the application of the trustee or the bankrupt (whether before or after discharge).

(7) For the purposes of this section the income of the bankrupt comprises every payment in the nature of income which is from time to time made to him or to which he from time to time becomes entitled, including any payment in respect of the carrying on of any business or in respect of any office or employment and (despite anything in section 11 or 12 of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999)[7] any payment under a pension scheme but excluding any payment to which subsection (8) applies[8].

(8) This subsection applies to–

(a) payments by way of guaranteed minimum pension; . . .

(b) payments giving effect to the bankrupt’s protected rights as a member of a pension scheme.. . ..

(9) In this section, “guaranteed minimum pension” has the same meaning as in the Pension Schemes Act 1993.

“protected rights” has the meaning given in section 10 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993, as it had effect before the commencement of section 15(1) of the Pensions Act 2007.”

There are also provisions to allow the recovery of excessive pension contributions under s324A  IA.

The HC Judge summarised the position very succinctly, with the CA’s approval:

“In short, the position since 1999 has been that rights under personal pension arrangements do not in general vest in a trustee in bankruptcy. Nevertheless, as has always been the case with occupational pensions, provision has been maintained for an IPO to be made in certain circumstances. It may be thought that the parenthetical words in section 310(7) were required in order to ensure that the position under personal pension policies did not diverge from that applicable to occupational pension schemes. There was to be no question of the 1999 Act going so far as to protect from creditors all income of a bankrupt even where such income stems from a pension. This was also the case as regards occupational pensions under the 1995 Act: see section 91(4).”

The CA set out the explanatory notes in the appropriate sections of the WRPA which explained what the Act was trying to achieve.

And finally, they quote s311 IA which imposes on the bankrupt a duty to assist the Trustee in the carrying  out of his functions.

The CA Judgment – the Answer

Gloster LJ set out the question as follows:

Whether section 333(1), read in conjunction with section 310, of the Insolvency Act enables a trustee in bankruptcy to require a bankrupt, who has reached the age at which he is contractually entitled to draw down or “crystallise” his pension (but has not done so), to elect to do so, so that the trustee may apply for an IPO under section 310 in relation to the funds drawn, or to be drawn, down;

And the two possible arguments:

i) The first is to argue that, even on the assumption that the bankrupt’s contractual rights to draw down or crystallise his pension after he has reached a certain age do not fall within the description of any “payment in the nature of income ……. to which he from time to time becomes entitled” for the purposes of section 310(7), nonetheless the trustee is entitled under section 333(1) to require the bankrupt to exercise such rights and elect to receive payment. The argument would run that, since one of the functions of the trustee is to obtain an IPO in respect of income that is potentially receivable by the bankrupt during the three-year period so as to satisfy creditors’ claims, the trustee is entitled to require the bankrupt to draw down income from his pension for the purpose of enabling the trustee to carry out his functions under section 310(7) in relation to the income payments under the pension once drawn down.

ii) The second approach (and this was the way in which Mr Davies [for the trustee] principally presented his argument before us, and indeed how the judge dealt with the case at first instance) is to argue that the italicised wording in section 310(7):

“For the purposes of this section the income of the bankrupt comprises every payment in the nature of income …… to which he from time to time becomes entitled,”

meant that, once a bankrupt pension holder had reached the required age, and was accordingly entitled to draw down his pension on request, his vested right to elect to do so, and the subsequent payments which would be made to him by the pension provider, were within section 310(7) and therefore were subject to the IPO procedure. It accordingly followed that, either under section 363(2), section 333 or the general jurisdiction of the court, the bankrupt could be compelled to elect to draw down his pension.

She doesn’t take any time to make up her mind between them:

In my judgment neither of these arguments is correct.

She wastes no time on the first argument – that the Trustee has functions in relation to property that is expressly excluded from the bankrupt’s estate.

It would drive a coach and horses through the protection afforded to a bankrupt’s pension rights by the Insolvency Act and pension legislation if a trustee were able, in effect, to require a bankrupt to make the entirety of his pension available for satisfaction of his creditors’ claims, by the simple expedient of a request under section 333 or a court order under section 363(2), thereby converting excluded property into “income”.

The fact that before bankruptcy pension rights might be accessible to a creditor – as in Blight v Brewster – merely shows the difference caused by an bankruptcy order. They don’t support the argument that the same rules could apply after an order.

The second argument takes more consideration. In essence the question is whether a right to elect to take income is equivalent to payment of the income, under s310(7) IA. But again, the result is the same. Note the italicised words:

The contractual right to elect, by service of a notice on the pension provider, to receive a lump sum or income payment, in the pension context is very different in character from an actual payment or the right to receive that actual payment, once the relevant election has been made. Indeed, normally, until well after the relevant election has been made, there will be no legal right as such to receive any specific payment, particularly in the case of a SIPP, where the fund may comprise assets which are not readily marketable. In the context of section 310, payment and payment to which he from time to time becomes entitled mean just that; payment does not mean a chose in action or a bundle of rights which, if and when exercised, and only then, give rise to the making of a payment or the entitlement to a payment. The language of section 310 is addressed to capturing income; there is no suggestion in the language that it is conferring a power on the court to require the bankrupt to exercise a power – in relation to property expressly excluded from the bankruptcy estate – to generate income.

She points out that the legislation draws a clear distinction between payments under a pension scheme and rights under a scheme. And she concludes:

As with the first argument referred to above, it would drive a coach and horses through the protection afforded to private pensions and rights thereunder by virtue of section 11 of the WRPA, if, by the simple expedient of an application for an IPO, a trustee (subject to satisfying the court that the amount drawn down could be characterised as income and that the IPO did not reduce the bankrupt’s income below what appeared to the court to be necessary for meeting his and his family’s reasonable domestic needs) could in effect obtain payment of the entirety (or almost the entirety) of a bankrupt’s pension fund into the bankrupt’s estate so as to meet the claims of his creditors, notwithstanding that the pension was not in payment. In my judgment, Parliament has decided to draw the balance between, on the one hand, the interests of the State in encouraging people to save through the medium of private pensions (so that in old age or infirmity they will not be a burden on the resources of the State), and, on the other, the interests of creditors in receiving payment of their debts, by the mechanism of sections 342A to 342C of the Insolvency Act which enable a trustee to claw back excessive pension contributions made by the bankrupt where such contributions have unfairly prejudiced the bankrupt’s creditors.

And she decides that Raithatha was wrongly decided, and that Horton was correct, and as the other members of the court (Sir Stanley Burton and McFarlane LJ) agree, the appeal is dismissed.

And the Consequence Is?

Much relief all round. This is the position that everybody thought they were in from the WRPA in 1999 until 2012, and even after that Raithatha was widely disregarded as merely being one decision of a Deputy Judge. A policy decision had been takenin 1999 to protect pensions in the case of bankruptcies and this has been upheld.

A decision the other way would have opened the gates to large numbers of applications by IPs hoping to recover at least enough to cover their own fees from very modest pension funds. Many bankrupts have had some success in the past, and fail towards the end of their working lives, and these are the sort of people who have built up modest pensions, which would be most at risk.

No, a good decision all round.

Given the devastating logic of the CA decision the Trustee looks unlikely to try to appeal to the SC, but if I hear anything about this I will let you know.

As I’m a few days late (the decision was published on 7th October) there are many commenties available on the web. They range from the friendly and extremely practical piece on Debt Camel  to pieces on Lexis Nexis and by Eversheds and many other large firms. And there will be more. But if you’ve got this far you’ve probably read enough.

Written by Coventry Man

13/10/2016 at 23:24

NEWSFLASH – Horton v Henry – the CA Speaks

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And the appeal was dismissed, so Raithatha is overruled. The trustee cannot force a bankrupt to elect to claim his pension. More shortly, but here is the Bailii report.

Written by Coventry Man

11/10/2016 at 10:33

No Human Rights Here – McDonald v McDonald in the Supreme Court

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McDonald v McDonald [2016] UKSC 28

The European Convention on Human Rights, and the Human Rights Act 1998 are basically intended to regulate the relationship between individuals and the State, not between individuals themselves, which is generally left to domestic law. The HRA provides this expressly:

s 6.1 It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.

So what happens when one individual, or private organisation, while exercising their own rights, normally as to the ownership of property, infringes the Human Rights of another individual?

In the housing field the easiest way for this to happen is when a landlord seeks possession of a house or flat belonging to him, but occupied by somebody as their home, and so the occupier’s rights would normally be protected under Article 8 of the Convention:

Art 8.1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and fimily life, his home and his correspondence.

Art 8.2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

This clashes with the landlord’s rights under Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention:

A1P1. Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a state to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

If the occupant is evicted they lose their home. If not the landlord is deprived of his property. Which takes priority? It is easy enough if you are asking the judge to exercise his discretion and make an order, because he can take all these factors into consideration. But how do you decide if the landlord is seeking possession under a mandatory ground, such as ground 8  or s21 HA, when the judge has no discretion in the matter?

Well, the matter was decided in respect of property belonging to public bodies long ago, in the well known cases of Manchester CC v Pinnock (2010), and Hounslow v Powell etc (2011) I wrote about them at the time (here and here) and the SC decided that in an appropriate (ie very strong) case the court should decide whether the order sought was “proportionate” in all the cirdumstances. In practice the courts rarely exercise this discretion, but it is there and cannot be ignored, with public bodies generally adapting ther procedure to take it into account. And in this context “public bodies” includes most social landlords, following the CA case of Weaver v London & Quadrant (2009).

This was all based on the wording “a public authority” and so at first glance couldn’t affect relationships between private individuals, or private bodies. However, these are all cases where there is a mandatory ground of possession, with no discretion to the judge, and a strong feeling of unfairness, or lack of proportionateness, so the occupants’ advocates were inventive, and argued that although Joseph Soap, the landlord, wasn’t a public body, the local county court was, and so the court was bound by the HRA even if the landlord wasn’t. The court would therefore have to consider and deal with the human rights points, and if that affected the landlord’s rights then this was covered by the proviso in A1P1. If the argument succeeded than it would in fact apply to all areas of law, and not just housing claims, so it was a matter of great importance.

McDonald v McDonald

This was an undoubtedly hard case. The defendant, an adult with psychiatric and behavioural problems, was living in a house bought for her by her parents with the aid of a short-term interest-only mortgage from CHL. She had an AST of the property, paid from her benefits. Unfortunately her parents’ financial circumstances deteriorated and they could no longer pay the morgage payments in full. CHL appointed receivers under the LPA who exercised their power to serve a s21 notice on the defendant, and brought possession proceedings.

At Oxford County Court the defendant’s representatives argued that the court ought to consider the proportionality of making an order for possession, given that there was medical evidence that having to move would have a severe adverse affect upon her. HHJ Corrie held that he had no power to do this as the claimants were not a public body. However, if he did have the power the Judge would have exercised it and dismissed the possession claim, there being no other way to protect the defendant’s interests.

The CA dismissed the appeal and the case got to the SC and judgment was given on 15.6.16. They identified three questions:

  • should a court consider proportionality in a claim to evict a residential occupier by a private sector owner;
  • if so, is can s21 HA be read in a Convention compliant way; and
  • if so, would the Judge have been entitled to dismiss the claim as he said he would?


The defendant’s counsel argued strongly that the court was clearly a part of the state, and so was bound to consider proportionality in making any possession order, and if there was a private sector claimant would have to balance their A1P1 rights against the occupant’s Art 8 rights when coming to a decision.

The court said that things were not as simple as that. Parliament has regulated the position between private landlords and tenants for many years and although the tenant with an AST has restricted rights, they are significant and show where parliament has democratically decided to strike the balance between them. There are no circumstances where a judge should use Article 8 to make a different order from that determined by the contractual position, as regulated by the legislation. And as Lord Millett explained in Harrow LBC v Qazi (2004) the court:

 is merely the forum for the determination of the civil rights in dispute between the parties… once it concludes that the landord is entitled to an order for possession, there is nothing further to investigate. [paras 108-109]

Having looked at the cases from the ECHR the court decided that although there was some support for the view that Art 8 was engaged, there was none that said that a judge had to consider proprotionality when making a possession order, so the appeal was dismissed.

Can s21 be made compliant?

The court said that it is one thing to imply words into legislation which are consistent with the scheme of the legislation, but are needed to make it comply with the Convention. It is quite another to insert words that are wholly inconsistent this its scheme. That is not interpretation, but amendment, and is something for parliament and not for the courts to do. If the section was incompatible then there would have to be a declaration of incompatibilty. But in the circumstances this did not arise.

Should the Judge have dismissed the claim?

The judge could only postpone any order for possession bu up to six weeks, and then only if there was exceptional hardship. It was difficult to see how it would ever be proportionate to dismiss the posession claim altogether, and prevent the mortgagees getting repaid at all. The mortgage term expired only three weeks after the County Court judgment, and the only way to recover the loan was by selling the property with vacant possession. On the facts possession should have been postponed by six weeks at the most.

And this means?

The court has banged the argument that all law is subject to the Convention because all laws are enfirced by courts very firmly on the head. And also indicated that s21 and other mandatory possession grounds have been decided by parliament and that the courts must accept the balance between the parties that parliament has struck.

There may be a few small points on introductory tenancies still to be considered, but these are granted by public sector landlords, and this case, hard as it is to the parties concerned, really draws all this argument to a close, some 18 years after the Human Rights Act came into force.

Sighs of relief from private sector landlords. And at least the rest of us know where we are.

More details as ever with the Nearly Legal blog.

Written by Coventry Man

25/07/2016 at 13:49

Why All Businesses are Risky

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This isn’t my normal legal/land-law sort of piece. However, in another life I attend networking breakfasts in Leamington Spa, and this piece is based on a talk that I gave there.

I’ve spent over 35 years as a litigation solicitor. This gives you a very jaundiced view of things. People only come to see me when things have gone wrong. So I’m very used to risk – a major part of my work is managing risk. What can I pass on?

All businesses have risk

If you’re an employee you get paid a salary which doesn’t normally depend too precisely on how much money you are making for your employer. But if you are in business you charge your clients/customers/patients fees and you incur expenses such as salaries, rent, and the cost of materials, and the two sides of the equation are only distantly related to each other. If your income is larger than your expenses you make a profit, and if they aren’t you make a loss, and in many businesses the difference is a very thin line. So there is a risk.

It is part of being a business. You can’t eliminate it. You have to recognise it, and then live with it. And do remember there is the world of difference between being good at an activity  – say photography – and being able to trade successfully as a photographer. You need many extra skills. Risk management is one of them.

Going into business is risky – but then so is living. We could all avoid the risk of being knocked down by a bus by staying at home all day. But we don’t – we just remember to look both ways for the large red (or blue) things. And the budding photographer can manage his risk by getting his staging checked, having the children chaperoned, and taking lots of pictures so that some of them are what the clients want.

Risk isn’t bad in itself. It’s unmanaged, unrecognised risk that is the problem. You have to have a sense of proportion. You walk a lot closer to the edge of a kerb than you do to the edge of  a cliff because the consequences of getting things wrong are so much more serious. So you factor the chances of failure against the consequences of failure and act accordingly.

Of course you don’t always have to take the risks offered. If you don’t like what you see

  • avoid the activity. I don’t know much about conveyancing. So I don’t do it, and any that comes my way is sent on to others who know better;
  • protect by taking precautions, or undertaking training, or by limiting your potential liabilty by contract, or whatever;
  • protect things by insurance, or laying off liability on sub contractors, so you aren’t in the line of fire if things do go wrong.

And remember, risk can be a reason for you to charge a premium price for a tricky job. And if you do enough of something you ought to get pretty good at it, so you have a niche, and are doing things that are well within your comfort-zone. Taming lions doesn’t bother a lion-tamer, although it would certainly bother me.

Risk is good.

Types of risk

It’s essential to recognise & evaluate risk when you see it. At any rate you have to know when there is a problem. As a partner said when I was a trainee in London:

You don’t need to know where the mines are. We have people to tell you that. But you’ve got to know that you’re in a b****y minefield!

A major reason for business failure is not providing for risks properly. If you’re a buy-to-let landlord you have to factor the risk of voids, or the 6-9 months it takes to get an eviction, or changes in the tax on interest, or changes in the law (eg on s21 or the definition of Houses in Multiple Occupation) into your business plan or you will make a lot less than you were expecting, possibly fatally so.

Or say that you are an IT company and allow one customer to account for say 40% of your turnover. You are very vulnerable if their business fails, or is taken over by somebody who doesn’t continue the relationship. We all know to our cost that big and apparently healthy companies can fail – BhS or Austin Reed are only the latest examples. And if they ask you to cut your charges, or give them freebies, you may be unable to resist. Think of farmers, supermarkets, and the price of milk. You have to have your wits about you all the time.

There are two main types of risk – risks of trading, and personal risks – and here are a few examples.

Risks of Trading

  • bad debts/insolvent debtors.
  • changes in the market -new competitors, changes in fashion, technological breakthroughs.
  • changes in cost of fuel, or changes in law or tax.
  • unexpected costs of repairs or research, or a court case.
  • supply problems.
  • employee problems.
  • landlord or tenant problems.
  • black swans – totally unexpected developments that you could not foresee (like the discovery of black swans in Australia when all the rest of the world’s swans are basically white.)

Do remember that most businesses fail because of cashflow problems, not lack of profits as such.

Personal Risks

  • illness/death of owner or family, or key workers
  • divorce of owner(s) or key workers.
  • internal disputes inside company.
  • age and succession.

What to do

Before you start research the business thoroughly. The internet is a wonderful tool, as are books, but they are not enough in themselves. Not everything they say is right, and your particular type of work, or location, or skills, may be different. There is no substitute to practical hands-on working as close to your proposed business as possible. But do remember that if you are working with the vendors of the business that they might not be entirely balanced in their view of things. They are unlikely to undervalue their business or its prospects.

Once you have started take as much advice as you can. You don’t need to follow all of it, indeed you’d be a fool if you did. But you ought to consider it. There are a lot a potential places to get advice – colleagues (if you can), contacts in your trade, networking contacts, friends and relations (although they may not know much about your business), formal mentors, formal training courses and qualifications, and professionals – accountants (the key advisor for most small businesses), lawyers, surveyors, IT techies. And pick the right one – ask around, don’t just read their blurb or go for price.

And then take precautions:

  • set up your organisation properly. Register with HMRC. Get a partnership agreement, or shareholders’ agreement to avoid internal disagreements. Get employment contracts.
  • get terms of business and contracts – either from your trade body or from a lawyer – and use them.
  • set up systems, and follow them.
  • keep records, and back them up regularly.
  • insure against risks that you don’t want to cover yourself.
  • talk to banks before you’re in trouble rather than afterwards.
  • take up credit references for customers and suppliers – accounts at Companies House can be 2-3 years out of date.
  • keep your life/work balance under control.
  • don’t fall out with your wife, or business partner. That will really mess things up.
  • and don’t fall out with suppliers, or competitors unless completely unavoidable. A bit of good will goes a long way.

If you are in trouble seek help early. All professionals find it so much easier to help you if they are called in before matters are going terminal. They may be able to stop you making things worse.

And manage risk. Do what you are good at, and comfortable with. Get others to do the rest. These can be employees, or sub-contractors, or suppliers, or agents. There will be a cost, but it may be worth it. Alternatively, don’t do it at all – like me and conveyancing. And if you are doing something new, start in a small way and work up with time.

What not to do

Don’t ignore problems, or only address them at the last minute.

But don’t get over-protective either. Don’t lose a good oppertunity by refusing to raise modest amounts of finance for it. Or get wildly over-insured against all possible risks, or spend a disproprtionate amount of time and money on seeking advice (I never said that business choices were easy to make.)

Obviously don’t take wild, unassessed risks. But more importantly don’t let your staff or colleagues do so either – often without realising the nature of the risks they are taking, if they have less experience or expertise than you. Or if you haven’t filled them in about the potential problem.

And don’t get too worried either. If you are sick with worry all the time you ought to be doing something else.

Legal dangers – the realities

There is a lot more to taking people to court than just getting the law right, although that undoubtedly helps. Courts are slow and expensive. Opponents go bust and are unable to pay judgments, or the winner’s costs. A lot of management time has to be put into fighting a case which could more productively be used earning money for your business. Big opponents can be very difficult to deal with, as they can throw vast resources both in cash and in manpower at a problem that you can’t match.

You need to be almost certain to win sometimes for it to be all worthwhile. Because if you are certain to win the other side is certain to lose, and can usually be persuaded to do a deal. The courts are really only just a method of getting the parties round a table to settle things, so the sooner you can convince them of this the easier it will be. And if you have good documentary evidence, created at the same time as the events, then any judge is almost certain to find in your favour, so this is the thing to do. Record, get receipts, take photos, confirm things in writing. Don’t just rely on your memory, and an impressive witness-box manner, because that rarely wins these days.

Further information

There is a lot of training out there which can give you useful skills and some of it is essential – if you want to drive an HGV lorry you have to have a licence. And there is genuine expertise and proven techniques in marketing, sales and management, which can be learned, as well as the more classical skills like book-keeping. Look around and pick what suits you.

Obviously keep your technical knowledge up to date. This is what your customer expects and might give you a competitive edge. Things can change very quickly – don’t get left behind.

Books, the internet, trade periodicals and so on can be excellent in showing you the way into a problem, or in keeping an overview on an aspect that you don’t come to very often, or in showing the current trends and interests in your field.

If you need detailed help in a technical area you can go to a professional, for a price. For most small businesses the accountant is the first port of call, and they should be able to direct you to appropriate lawyers or surveyors or whatever if it isn’t their sort of problem.

However, do beware that a lot of “training” is really just a way for the trainer to make a living, rather than being a lot of practical use to you. And some professionals aren’t worth much either.


So, as I said before

Risk is Good.

Or more accurately

Managed, understood, recognised, prepared risk can be good in appropriate circumstances.

But even then, beware of black swans. Such as the referendum leading to Brexit, which nobody expected when my own business was set up a few years ago, and and the long-term result of which is impossible to predict. A definite risk – but perhaps one for another day.

Written by Coventry Man

22/07/2016 at 00:02

Where am I? – Edwards v Kurasamy in the Supreme Court

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Sometimes the most interesting cases arise from pretty ordinary events. In this case Mr Edwards fell over on his way to the dustbins in his block of flats, because of uneven paving. He can’t have been too badly hurt because the DDJ awarded him £3,750 in damages, but it started a chain of appeals all the way up to the SC, where the decision came out on 13th July. So it was obviously thought very important by a number of insurers, landlords and others. A link to the full report is here [2016] UKSC 40.

Before I tell you about the decision you will need some background. Mr K had a long lease of a flat in a block of flats in Runcorn. Access was over a paved courtyard leading to the entrance into the communal hallway, and then on into the individual flats. Mr K sub-let his flat to Mr E in 2009, and one day in 2010 Mr E was crossing the courtyard to put out the rubbish in the dustbins when he tripped over an uneven paving slab and suffered the injuries from which he has no doubt long recovered.

Under s11 Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 a landlord of a residential lease for less than 7 years is liable for structual and exterior repairs. The obligation is extended in the case of flats etc to include other parts of the the building in which the landlord has an estate or interest. The wording is of some importance:

s 11 Repairing obligations in short leases

(1)In a lease to which this section applies (as to which, see sections 13 and 14) there is implied a covenant by the lessor—

(a)to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes),

(b)to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and

(c)to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.

(1A)If a lease to which this section applies is a lease of a dwelling-house which forms part only of a building, then, subject to subsection (1B), the covenant implied by subsection (1) shall have effect as if—

(a)the reference in paragraph (a) of that subsection to the dwelling-house included a reference to any part of the building in which the lessor has an estate or interest; and

(b)any reference in paragraphs (b) and (c) of that subsection to an installation in the dwelling-house included a reference to an installation which, directly or indirectly, serves the dwelling-house and which either—

(i)forms part of any part of a building in which the lessor has an estate or interest; or

(ii)is owned by the lessor or under his control.

(1B)Nothing in subsection (1A) shall be construed as requiring the lessor to carry out any works or repairs unless the disrepair (or failure to maintain in working order) is such as to affect the lessee’s enjoyment of the dwelling-house or of any common parts, as defined in section 60(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, which the lessee, as such, is entitled to use.

So what mattered here was whether the paving was:

  • part of the exterior of the building, or of the hallway;
  • an area over which Mr K had an estate or interest;  and
  • whether it mattered that Mr K hadn’t been given notice of the defect in the paving before the accident, given the long-standing rule that a  landlord is not liable to repair the let property unless the tenant has given him notice of the defect.

The DDJ found for the tenant. This was reversed by the Circuit Judge on appeal, but her decision was reversed again by the CA, and so we get to the SC.

The Supreme Court Decision

You might wonder why things got so far, given the comparatively minor injuries. The answer is that landlords, and their insurers, got seriously worried about the idea of being held liable for defects about which they had received no prior ntice, and could see a whole army of trip-and-slip cases coming their way, and were determined to do something about it if at all possible.

Lord Neuberger gave the judgment in the SC, with a very short comment by Lord Carnwath.

He dealt with the first point robustly: – external paving is not part of a building, being outside the walls and roof, especially as it was felt necessessary to include “drains, gutters and external pipes” in the definition, and you can’t interpret the section so as to get round this. The CA decision of Brown v Liverpool Corporation (1969) (on earlier legislation) to the contrary was wrong, and the CA decision in Campden Hill v Gardner (1977) (on different earlier legislation) was to be preferred.

That disposed of the appeal, but the court gave its views on the other points as well.

The second point looks impossible to dispute – Mr K had a right of way over the paving and this is an “interest” for conveyancing purposes, even if it doesn’t amount to an “estate”. Attempts by Mr E’s counsel to argue that he had lost the interest while the sub-tenancy was in existence got nowhere. It was also pointed out that s3A of the Act protects landlords from limitations in their powers:

(3A)In any case where—

(a)the lessor’s repairing covenant has effect as mentioned in subsection (1A), and

(b)in order to comply with the covenant the lessor needs to carry out works or repairs otherwise than in, or to an installation in, the dwelling-house, and

(c)the lessor does not have a sufficient right in the part of the building or the installation concerned to enable him to carry out the required works or repairs,

then, in any proceedings relating to a failure to comply with the lessor’s repairing covenant, so far as it requires the lessor to carry out the works or repairs in question, it shall be a defence for the lessor to prove that he used all reasonable endeavours to obtain, but was unable to obtain, such rights as would be adequate to enable him to carry out the works or repairs.

The third point was the one which raised the greatest amount of heat. The SC started off by going through the cases starting in Moore v Clark (1813) and decided that it was clear that notice was required for the parts of the premises let to the tenant – especially the interior – but not for the parts that the landlord retained – eg the roof and external walls. The argument was that a landlord can’t go barging in to the tenant’s property on the off-chance that there is a defect, but is liable for his own parts, and this is a fair division of responsibilities given that the landlord has rights to inspect under s11(6):

(6) In a lease in which the lessor’s repairing covenant is implied there is also implied a covenant by the lessee that the lessor, or any person authorised by him in writing, may at reasonable times of the day and on giving 24 hours’ notice in writing to the occupier, enter the premises comprised in the lease for the purpose of viewing their condition and state of repair.

The position if the landlord had let other parts of the building to other tenants isn’t so clear, but on balance the landlord will be liable without notice.

It was argued that all s11 liability claims needed notice, but this was rejected: the general law would apply.

Finally Mr E’s counsel argued that as the paving was outside the flat the general rule meant that no notice was needed in this case. However, the court ruled that in the particular case the rights on the paving were the limited rights of a right of way and that Mr K would have no rights as against the freeholder to carry our repairs. And he had lost the right to exercise these for the duration of the tenancy. Hence Mr E, who was there every day, should have given him notice of the defect.

The consequences

Mr K the landlord won the battle but the wider implications are not entirely clear. Landlords will be pleased that they aren’t liable for defects in outside paving, in these slightly unusual circumstances. And that notice of defects has to be given if they are going to be liable. In most cases. Some tenants may have to rely upon the more limited rights under the Defective Premises Act 1972. I suppose the lesson to all is to mind how you go.



Written by Coventry Man

18/07/2016 at 17:52

More Changes for s8 Notices

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It seems to be traditional to change the form of the notices that a Landlord has to give an Assured, or Assured Shorthold, Tenant if they want to recover possession for any reason other than service of a s21 Notice every so often, usually at short notice, and with little publicity. The powers that be did so in April 2015 (see my piece) and are now doing so again, with effect from 6th April 2016.

This matters, because although the actual changes are trivial – correcting of some cross-references to the new form of notice needed for s21 Notices – the form is a prescribed form, and if you don’t use the right one then the notice is invalid, and you might have to start the possession claim again. And you will have to start again if you are using the most popular Ground 8 (2 months’ or 8 weeks’ arrears of rent) because the court isn’t allowed to dispense with service of a valid notice in that case.

The new form of notice is in the regulations here  along with some similar minor amendments to the notices for increasing rent etc. The layout is as awful as ever, and printed in ridiculaously small print – why can’t they produce these forms in a usable version (can’t really call it a form) rather than getting everybody to type the things out afresh? The people who produce the court forms have now made pretty good, amendable pdf versions, so perhaps they can pass on a few tips to their colleagues in housing.

Still, there it is. Don’t forget it if you advise landlords. Or indeed if you advise tenants either, as you may be able to give your client much longer to find somewhere else to live than you had expected.


Written by Coventry Man

04/04/2016 at 18:36