What is a Spouse?

Under the Housing Act (S17) a spouse has the right to succeed, in most circumstances, to an assured tenancy where he or she was cohabiting with the deceased spouse immediately before the death.

Whilst that is all reasonably clear, the definition of what constitutes a ‘spouse’ for the purpose of this legislation (the Act defines a spouse as someone ‘living with the tenant as his or her wife or husband’) has caused numerous arguments.

Recently, a case involving the surviving member of a homosexual couple was heard. The survivor, who had lived with the tenant for more than two years, applied to succeed to an assured tenancy entered into by his partner but the application was refused.

The criteria applied to determine if the relationship was one of living together were:

  • had the couple openly set up home together?
  • was the relationship one of mutual lifetime commitment?
  • was the relationship presented openly and unequivocally to the outside world, so that it could be considered permanent?
  • did the parties have a common life together, both in relation to the household and in relation to friends and family?

In other words, the principal factor in assessing whether one partner in a relationship was or was not a ‘spouse’ was what the outside world would have considered the relationship to be, rather than what the domestic arrangements were. Whilst living together for a long time might corroborate the existence of such a relationship, it was not of itself conclusive.

On the basis that the criteria had not been demonstrated to exist, the application to succeed to the tenancy failed.

This case illustrates the lack of protection afforded to someone who lives with an assured tenant but where the couple do not marry (or undertake a civil partnership), unless that person becomes a co-tenant in which case succession is not an issue.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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