By Mike Edwards
In July 2011 the Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Suurpere v Nice and Nice that inadequate Prescribed Information as required under the Tenancy Deposit Regulations as set out in the Housing Act 2004 and above all in the Housing (Tenancy Deposits)(Prescribed Information) Order 2007 had been issued to the tenant.
In this latest case the Court of Appeal on 6th November 2012 has reached a similar decision and overturned an earlier and incorrect lower court decision. The full details of this decision are awaited but the simple facts are that the tenant had paid a deposit and the Landlord had protected it in one of the approved schemes but he had not given the prescribed information (PI) as required by the Prescribed Information Order 2007. In the Suurpere case there was an agent involved who paid the fine but in this case there was no agent.
The tenant had significant arrears so the Landlord issued proceedings and as is so often the case and where the big danger lies for landlords the tenant counter-claimed that the requirements of the Prescribed Information Order had not been complied with. At the initial hearing the Landlord admitted this ‘offence’ but in defence claimed it didn’t matter as the tenant could easily find the information for themselves. This was exactly the decision in Suurpere – that the tenant should be given the information not have to go searching for it as and when they needed it.
This opinion was strongly emphasised in Suurpere which makes it all the more astonishing that the lower court Judge was persuaded by this argument. That in effect it is the protection of the deposit that matters in TDP cases and that the issuing of the PI is no more than an administrative procedural necessity. So the Landlord claimed the deposit had been protected (which it had) and that the tenant could have gone to the scheme administrator for anything else he wanted to know. The lower Court dismissed the tenant’s claim stating information in the tenancy agreement (scheme details) plus other information the Landlord provided during the Court hearing was enough to comply with the requirements of the Order.
Not surprisingly given such an obvious error at law the tenant appealed and equally unsurprisingly the more learned Court of Appeal disagreed completely with the Landlord and original Judge. It held quite clearly that the giving of the PI amounts to more than just a minor procedural obligation and that the information has real importance in advising tenants how to get their deposit back and also how they could go to a dispute at no cost to themselves and without the need for litigation on their part.
In effect the Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of the High Court in Suurpere v Nice (see Nearly Legal report here). The lower Court had not reached a proper judicial evaluation. The Landlord clearly was in breach of the Prescribed Information Order and so the penalties in section 214 The Housing Act 2004 applied. Therefore the Landlord was ordered to return the deposit plus, because the original offence had occurred before The Localism Act 2011 provisions came into effect in April 2012 the mandatory penalty of three times the deposit applied
So the tenant won and his appeal was allowed. Significantly the Court of Appeal has now agreed with the High Court decision in Suurpere that the Prescribed Information a Landlord must serve on the tenant is not some administrative afterthought which simply acts as an accompaniment to deposit protection. It is instead a vital component and one of two parts in the deposit protection process both of which must be fully and correctly completed by the Landlord to discharge his obligations in respect of deposit protection.
Simply to protect the deposit, laudable though that is compared to not protecting it, is insufficient to discharge the obligations. But more importantly this latest binding decision from a Court of Record confirms as was held in Suurpere that Landlords must supply that information themselves and not leave tenants to go searching for it themselves. As in Suurpere simply providing the DPS website address is not enough – the Scheme Terms and Conditions must be printed and attached to the Prescribed Information notice being served.
For the other two schemes there is a leaflet which under their rules it is obligatory to issue. Post Localism Act 2011 if not doing so before landlords and agents should definitely obtain a signed copy of a suitably endorsed PI form as proof that the tenant has indeed received all the information.
All this means that if there was any shred of doubt post Suurpere there is now none whatsoever that the need to comply with the Prescribed Information Order is just as important as the need to place the deposit in the DPS Custodial scheme or insure it through The Dispute Service or my|deposits schemes. The two decisions mean tenants can easily defend a landlord’s section 21 action if they can show the deposit has not been protected OR that the Prescribed Information now have clear means of defending possession actions based on s21 Housing Act 1988 actions or in rent arrears cases. If either has not been completely and correctly completed by the Landlord and if he is unable to prove that if challenged then any s21 notice he has served will fail and in any section 8 action the tenant can counterclaim.
Informed opinion was that this appeal would always fail and that the Lower Court was clearly in error by in effect saying the PI didn’t really matter and if the tenant wanted more information he knew where to find it. But the Landlord was foolish to appeal as the July 2011 Appeal Court decision in Suurpere virtually guaranteed this appeal by the tenant would succeed. So now the Landlord hands over the deposit, plus a x3 penalty and presumably has significant costs.
While agents and Landlords may be irritated by this decision it is the only correct one that could be arrived at, as in Suurpere. Given the detail in the Statute and above all the Prescribed Information Order (2007) it is clear that no matter what Landlords may believe the Prescribed Information always had great significance given the detailed way the information that must be served on the tenant is laid out in the PI Order.