Home > Cases > R (Heffernan) v The Rent Service [2008] UKHL 58

This appeal raised a short but important question of statutory interpretation in relation to the manner in which the maximum allowable housing benefit for a person who is eligible for support is calculated. The rent officer is required to make a valuation by comparison with the rents payable for dwellings which are, on a particular hypothesis, comparable to that for which housing benefit is claimed. In the appellant’s case, the rent had been determined on the basis that the “locality” for assessing the local reference rent was the whole of the city of Sheffield.

A majority of the House of Lords (Lord Hope, Lord Scott and Lord Neuberger, Lord Rodger and Lord Walker dissenting) allowed the appeal and restored an order quashing those determinations. Giving the leading opinion, Lord Neuberger held that in determining the local reference rent, the rent officer should identify a sufficient number of neighbourhoods to satisfy the requirements of the legislation, and then should not consider further neighbourhoods. Whilst other interpretations of the legislation could be justified, that interpretation best fitted the purpose of the legislation, leads to the least unpredictability, and is the most easy to operate.

Richard Drabble QC, instructed by Irwin Mitchell, acted for the successful appellant.

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