Good morning

I was contacted in December 2021 by a landlord client who was in the process of evicting a tenant for £5800 rent arrears. As a last gasp option, he decided to pass the baton to me, knowing I operate, in cases of this type, on a No win, no fee basis. So, if I failed, it would cost him nothing and, in the event, I succeeded, he would recover most arrears, and avoid the need and costs associated with eviction. In other words, no downside in trying!

He explained how he was loathe to evict the young man, who had been diagnosed schizophrenic, but despite his mental health, had looked after the property and always ensured his rent liability was paid, by asking the Council to pay it direct. The arrears only occurred when his Housing Benefit was unexpectedly, without notification, cancelled in October 2020.

The landlord’s bookkeeper failed to alert him to the build-up of arrears until months later, at which point he visited the Council’s offices, with the tenant, and established the claim had been cancelled, based on information provided by DWP, which suggested he had moved to California. As there was no truth in this, both landlord and tenant tried to reason with council staff. In response, the Council argued it had written to the tenant, first suspending payment, and later cancelling the award, and due to his lack of reply it was now too late to alter that decision.

Undeterred, the experienced landlord pressed the point his tenant had previously relied on his Mental Health, Case Worker to deal with issues of this nature but since COVID struck no one had been in touch, suggesting the service had been suspended, due to Government restrictions. The Council refused to change its stance.

The reaction wasn’t a surprise to me, because once an award is cancelled it rarely is reinstated if the challenge is made outwith the statutory 1-month period after a decision has been made. It can be especially difficult to have it restored, where it was made more than 12 months ago. In this case, the offending decision was 15 months old. However, there are special provisions which allow claims to be re-visited and restored although, they’re not widely known or practiced.

Nonetheless, after securing consent from the tenant, I wrote to the Council’s Head of Benefits, highlighting a similar case I had resolved, only a few months before, where a London Borough backdated £14,000 using the same provisions. Essentially, you need to prove an “official error” has been made and that there’s a justifiable explanation for the claimant (tenant) not acting earlier. In our case, the Council had already acknowledged DWP had, most probably, provided incorrect information. The delay in reacting could also be justified by a combination of the tenant’s mental health, inability to handle such matters and prior reliance on the support worker.

Within a week, the Council contacted the landlord to confirm housing benefit had been reinstated and the backdated payment of £5000+ was winging its way towards him. This, in turn, has wiped out most of the arrears and stopped the eviction, much to the young man and landlord’s relief.

As you’ll appreciate from many of my most recent bulletins, I’m dealing, all too frequently, with cases of this nature. Where they concern Housing Benefit, administered by councils, I oftentimes find it relatively easy, to secure a successful outcome. In contrast, dealing with DWP, even in the simplest of cases, it’s so much more difficult and time consuming, due to its staff being poorly trained and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, even here, patience and perseverance, usually pay off!

If you or one of your tenant’s need advice or assistance, please drop me a note or phone 07733 080 389.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd