26th November, 2020
Renting to a “close family” member & claiming Housing Benefit
Two of my most read website articles, concern tenancies involving “family” members, where the tenants claimed Housing Benefit; were wrongly refused; and with my assistance, successfully appealed the Council’s decision.
The fact is, it’s neither illegal nor immoral for family members to seek assistance from HB or Universal Credit to enable them to secure suitable accommodation and meet their tenancy rental obligations. The good news is, if the agreement between the parties is genuine; involve terms which offer no “special” discounts nor treatment to tenants; and include, a genuine expectation rent will be paid, on time, ideally using electronic means (e.g. bank transfers, BACS etc) the application for HB or UC’s “housing costs element” should succeed.
My latest case
Involved a dispute between mother (claimant), son (landlord) and a council in the South of England. Interestingly, my client, the tenant, and her son, had seen an earlier article of mine, involving an aunt & niece appeal success, prompting the son to email me.
The son and his wife purchased a 2-bed property to accommodate the mother, a senior citizen, who had suffered a stroke. Purchasing the property, two streets away from their own home, allowed them to support her and fulfil her wish of remaining independent and avoid the need for residential care. She lived there for 6 years rent free and had no need to apply for any financial assistance.
However, her son (landlord) became very unwell in late 2019. He was diagnosed with having blood clots in his lungs and heart and was prescribed blood thinning tablets, which he is likely to need for the rest of his life. He was expecting to go into hospital to have further investigations and treatment, but this was put on hold due to COVID restrictions. His wife, around the same time, was also diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. To make matters worse, both lost their jobs due to the COVID crisis. Fortunately, both were able to secure alternative employment, but, in the process, their joint income dropped dramatically, making their joint mortgage costs unaffordable.
A combination of all these factors, prompted a discussion between the parties, during which it was agreed, the mother would have to start paying rent. Before doing anything, the mother & son consulted CAB and were encouraged to apply for Housing Benefit. However, the Council refused the claim on the basis the claim was contrived to abuse the LHA scheme and CAB was unable to assist them appeal the decision.
Challenging the decision
Based on the facts, as presented to me, the Council’s refusal was clearly wrong. At this stage in the process, the conventional way of challenging such a decision is to appeal to the Council. However, due to COVID disruptions, doing so could have resulted in the case languishing in the Tribunal Service’s large backlog of cases, for nearly 1 year, before a hearing could be arranged. So instead, I pursued the rather unconventional route of emailing the Council’s Chief Executive, imploring her to intervene and revise the Council’s poor decision.
I referred the CEO to the background to the claim and started my submission by explaining to her –
“As I’m sure your Decision Maker is aware, invoking Regulation 9 (1) (L) (an abuse of the HB scheme) is a difficult test for the Council to justify, as grounds for refusing a HB claim. As we’re still at the preliminary stage of challenging the Council’s decision, I would simply point you to…………………..relied on, by both First & Upper-tier judges. It provides a detailed explanation of the various factors that must be considered before invoking its use. Indeed, in the preface, it makes clear Decision Makers & Tribunals should be wary about using it as it can so easily produce “Rough Justice” as happened in this case. I then went on citing caselaw which supported my client’s position. Caselaw, as mentioned earlier, is very important in such cases, as councils, DWP and Tribunals are obliged to follow this in cases of similar nature.
The CEO immediately acknowledged my email and forwarded it to the HB Manager. One day later, the HB Manager confirmed she had revised the decision in my client’s favour.
The outcome was of great relief to both mother and son as the alternative of having to sell the property and, in the process, make this elderly and frail lady homeless, was unthinkable.
Her son emailed on hearing the news – “Well, you certainly have had an impressive effect on my wife and my mum – both of whom are crying tears of happiness.”
Sadly, not all cases are resolved in the tenant’s favour. Anyone experiencing similar problems should seek professional advice and support, as the law, whilst often supportive of the claimant’s position, is complex and ordinarily involves the need to present your case to a First-tier tribunal.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd