Good morning

One of my Housing Association clients notified me, just the other day, they’d won a Housing Benefit dispute with their local council, producing a £3000 Housing Benefit back-payment, wiping out their tenant’s rent arrears and, just as importantly, preventing her premature migration to Universal Credit, which would have caused further significant loss to this disabled tenant, dependent on Employment Support Allowance.

The tenant, in question, had moved to the Association’s tenancy, from another Council area in August 2018. At the time of her move, she was in receipt of Housing Benefit at her old address. Her new tenancy was in an area that had not yet transitioned to UC Full Service and she was anxious to continue her HB entitlement.

At the sign-up stage, the Housing Officer realised, this was simply a change of circumstances, in a “Live UC Area”, so there was no need for the tenant to claim Universal Credit. However, instead of completing a new HB form, as it involved a different HB Council administration, a shorter change of circumstances form was completed and forwarded on 06/08/2018 in error. Had the move been within the same council area, this would have been the correct form to use.

Initially, the Association and tenant patiently waited for news of the HB award. But as the tenant’s arrears mounted, topping £2000, the Housing Officer phoned the tenant, seeking an update on the HB claim. As the tenant hadn’t heard anything, she contacted the Council. On doing so, she discovered the application had not been processed; the council claimed a new HB form had been issued to her for completion & return; but when that wasn’t returned, within the 1 month provided, the claim had been refused.

The tenant was adamant, at no point did she receive any correspondence from HB to say the wrong form was used; she needed to complete a full new claim and the initial claim had been refused. Nevertheless, she submitted a new form on 20th November hoping that would do the trick. However, the Council refused to award HB, believing it could no longer accept the claim, and instead, advised her to claim Universal Credit.

Initially, the Housing Officer, supported by a Welfare Rights Officer, tried to convince the Council to review and revise its decision, but, to no avail. It was adamant that as the area was now operating UC Full Service, no further HB claims could be accepted. A subsequent appeal had been lodged which had also been rejected by the Council, so the case was heading for an HB Tribunal. It was at this point, I was asked for my tuppence worth.

I encouraged the Housing Officer to make a further submission to Housing Benefit, pointing to the fact:

  1. The original refusal of HB was an appealable decision and one, which, if successful, could allow the backdating of HB to the original date of the “change of circumstances” submission; and
  2. In order to do so, the Council could exercise discretion, by extending the period of return to allow acceptance of the new form & evidence, as a duly made claim for HB, effective from August 2018; and
  3. It was reasonable for the tenant to have assumed the submission of the first form was entirely adequate to ensure the reinstatement of her previous HB entitlement at the new address; and
  4. As soon as she realised something was amiss acted to resolve the problem: and
  5. The award of HB would be clearly beneficial to the tenant, as any retrospective award would clear the tenant’s rent arrears, plus her continuing HB entitlement was more beneficial than transferring, at this stage, to UC Full Service.

I also recommended alerting the local councillor to what was happening in the case and to a more general concern of the Association, that Council staff were wrongly refusing HB claims and promoting Universal Credit, without fully appreciating or properly considering, the impact this might have on the individuals concerned.

Within 1 week of referring the case for further reconsideration, the case was fully resolved in the tenant’s favour, much to her relief. The Association was also delighted to clear off the rent arrears.

In addition to the benefits realised by landlord & tenant, the case highlights the importance of frontline staff being educated on the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit transition rules. This small HA, to its credit, has invested time & resources to ensure its staff can protect the interests of its tenants, many of whom, would, like this tenant, be otherwise forced to claim UC prematurely and, in doing so, lose protection from any subsequent benefit loss. Well done to all those concerned!

Contact me or 07733 080 389 if you require any further iformation on this or any other welfare reform topic.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd

Phone 01698 424301 0r 07733 080 389