Wandsworth legal advice 'was wrong'

THE AUDITOR investigating complaints about Wandsworth council's housing policy has told counsel their advice was wrong.

James Goudie QC and Nigel Giffin, of 11 King's Bench Walk, advised that the borough's policy of selling off empty council homes was “in principle capable of being lawful”.

But the Wandsworth auditor, in line with the view taken by district auditor John Magill who presided over the Westminster homes-for-votes hearings, takes the opposite provisional view.

Wandsworth's borough solicitor Martin Walker says: “That's the nature of the beast. Until the legal process is exhausted the opinions of highly-respected counsel will differ.”

The argument, which could affect several local councils country-wide, surrounds the legality of whether an authority can strike a balance between “the discharge of its statutory duties to the homeless and its discretionary power to sell off housing stock”.

The auditors say that a council must be able to show it can fulfil its duties to the homeless before it can sell off homes, but Wandsworth was given different advice.

The provisional Binder Hamlyn auditors' report says the council has “misdirected itself in law” but members and officers will not be surcharged because there is no evidence of wilful misconduct.

This is the key difference with the Westminster case where councillors and high-ranking officers are accused of a conspiracy to increase the Tory vote.