A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year everyone.

Just before the Christmas break, I received an email from one of my Housing Association clients, seeking my assistance with a Housing Benefit dispute, that arose when one of its residents fell ill, failed to return an annual review form, and months later transferred, on a permanent basis, to a Nursing Home and cut off contact.

Prior to these events , she had been in receipt of Housing Benefit, covering both her rent and eligible service charges. Payment had also been made direct to the Association so her rent account was clear. However, around February 2019 the Council issued one of its bi-annual “review” forms, seeking confirmation of her income, capital, rent charge, continued residence etc. Nothing unusual about this, as councils UK wide, carry out similar periodic reviews.

The tenant failed to return the review form, and subsequent reminder, so the Council cancelled her HB. Some months later, the Association discovered a large rent arrears debt and so contacted the tenant’s family and council. A further review form was issued to the family but, despite promises, this was not returned.

The Association contacted Social Work who agreed to help. But when the required information was secured and forwarded to the Council, it refused to accept it, as it had not been furnished by the tenant or either an appointee or Guardian.

By the time I was contacted, in mid December, HB had been cancelled for more than 10 months, creating a £7000 rent arrears debt.

I wrote to the Council’s Head of Benefits & Revenues, along the following lines:

“If what I’m being advised is correct, I have some sympathy for your HB team initially suspending Housing Benefit and later cancelling it. However, I suspect the Decision Maker, at that time, was unaware of the reasons for the failure to respond to the initial review request. But later, when he/she was presented with the missing information, through the tenant’s Social Worker, the DM could have carried out a “late revision” to reinstate the HB award, thus reducing or clearing the rent arrears.

Housing Benefit teams can, and often do, carry our revisions and supersessions, on the basis of information secured from third parties, including when this is provided anonymously. Information provided by family members or Social Work staff should clearly not have been rebuffed, especially given the tenant’s state of health.

I would suggest, HB could, even now, carry out a “late revision” of its earlier decision to cancel on the grounds “special circumstances” exist, which would merit such an approach. Any such decision would clearly assist the tenant, avoid the need for the Association to pursue legal action for recovery and would be fully covered by DWP’s HB subsidy scheme; so no outlay for the Council”.

Within the week, HB agreed to my suggestion, effectively clearing the rent arrears and avoiding the need for further action or write-off.

It’s important to note, this type of case is on the increase as Councils continue to shed more of its experienced HB staff, in anticipation of Universal Credit replacing, “housing costs” funding for “working age” tenants. Where cases like this occur, seek specialist welfare benefits advice, as most of these cases can be resolved satisfactorily, if you know how to tackle the issue.

If you require more information on this or any other welfare reform topic, please get in touch 07733 080 389 or bill@ucadvice.co.uk.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd
January 2020