25th March, 2022
I was contacted recently by one of my London based clients and asked to assist in a case where the tenant was facing eviction, due to the retrospective cancellation of his Housing Benefit, causing an overpayment, plus the accrual of large rent arrears, adding £1000+ to the balance each month.
The problem was caused by the tenant visiting a brother in Europe, who had suffered a stroke and was poorly. He travelled abroad in July 2021 with the intention of returning, within 1 month. However, just over 3 weeks into his visit he was forced to self-isolate for 10 days, due to his niece contracting Covid-19. This forced him to extend his stay, causing him to be away slighlty more than 5 weeks.
My client landlord only discovered what had happened when they received a Housing Benefit suspension letter from the Council and 6 weeks later, notification of cancellation and large overpayment.
The tenant initially spoke to a housing benefit officer explaining what had occurred, but this didn’t achieve the desired result. He was left with the impression all he could do was lodge an appeal against the overpayment and cancellation of his HB. Meantime, his rent arrears were significantly increasing, putting his tenancy in jeopardy.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, his landlord asked me to intervene. After assessing the situation, I concluded there was little I could do about the overpayment, as the “temporary absence” rule makes no exception for what had happened in this case. However, I pursued a different tack with the Council in relation to its retrospective “cancellation” of HB.
In my email to the Council, I stated:
“My client advises, he’s already made an appeal against the cancellation of his HB, following his visit to his brother who was in poor health. You’ve responded by stating, amongst other things, he’ll have to claim Universal Credit, whereas he prefers to remain on housing benefit.
Is this not a case where you could apply a “closed supersession” rather than terminate his housing benefit?
As I understand the situation, you only discovered his visit abroad in November 2021 and carried out a review, leading to the retrospective cancellation. Whereas, you could simply have adjusted (superseded) his benefit, for the 5 weeks in question, as he had no other material changes.
I don’t question the fact there’s been an overpayment, as HB law, doesn’t make any specific exceptions to the 1-month rule, harsh as this may be to my client. However, he need not be denied HB for the periods before and after, where he appears to have a clear eligibility. Reinstating his HB would avoid the need to claim UC, prevent a large gap in entitlement and create a further award, erasing most of his arrears. The attached HB circular explains how “closed supersession” operates. My client’s circumstances appear to justify such an approach.”
The Council subsequently agreed to my suggestion, within a week, resulting in an award of £3800 and will recover the overpayment, in affordable deductions, from my client’s ongoing HB.
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UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd