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Private landlord wins appeal over level of penalty imposed for licensing breach, secures fresh hearing

A private landlord has succeeded in an appeal to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in a dispute with Salford City Council over whether a property he rented out needed a licence.

HHJ David Hodge QC rejected other grounds of appeal put by Aftab Raja but accepted that the First Tier Tribunal had been wrong to confirm the £22,500 financial penalty imposed by Salford.

In Raja v Salford City Council (HOUSING ACT 2004 - CIVIL PENALTY ORDER - burden and standard of proof) [[2021] UKUT 261 (LC) Judge Hodge said: “On this single ground of appeal, concerning the level of the penalty imposed, the appeal must be allowed to the extent only of setting aside the FTT’s decision to confirm the level of the financial penalty imposed by the council but not to revisit its decision that the relevant offence had been committed.

“I would remit the decision as to the appropriate level of penalty to the FTT to be determined following a re-hearing.”

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Mr Raja argued he had not gained any monetary benefit as a result of the offence and that his financial situation should be considered when imposing any penalty.

He said Salford had not sought to assess his finances and he had been on benefits at the time.

Mr Raja produced accounts showing that his net income as a taxi driver for the year ending 2 November 2017 was £7,515; for the period 3 November 2017 to 31 August 2018 it was £6,260 and £6,030 for the year ended 5 April 2020.

The judge said: “The FTT [said] no more than: “In the light of the evidence before us, particularly the need for an improvement notice and the landlord leading for the Emergency Prohibition Order, we confirm the Final Notice.”

When Mr Raja sought to appeal on the grounds that the penalty was grossly excessive, “the FTT did no more than point to this paragraph as justifying its decision,” HHJ Hodge said.

“The FTT’s decision contains no statement of how the council had calculated the financial penalty it had imposed of £22,500. There is no indication of how that penalty was assessed: of how the council had assessed the levels of culpability and harm so as to arrive at any penalty score, of the band of penalties appropriate to the resulting penalty score, or of how any personal mitigating or aggravating features were identified and factored into the council’s calculation.

“There was no reasoned or articulated calculation by the FTT. There is no indication that the FTT had made their own determination of the appropriate amount of the financial penalty to be imposed on Mr Raja or of how ‘the evidence’ had factored into the council’s figure of £22,500, which the FTT proceeded to endorse.”

Mark Smulian

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