2nd February, 2020
West Granton Housing Co-op, website clients of mine, contacted me, seeking advice regarding a dispute over Housing Benefit (HB) which related to one of their elderly tenants.
The tenant had been occupying a house of the Co-op, became ill, was transferred to hospital and during her stay there, it became apparent she couldn’t move back to her home, as it was no longer suitable. Fortunately, the Co-op had a bungalow available, so approached a relative who was mandated to act on her behalf. The bungalow offer was readily accepted. Immediately, the relative set about ending the old tenancy, clearing it of her belongings and moving them to the bungalow. During all this time, the tenant remained in hospital, determined to move into her new home, when able to do so.
Already aware, the lady was receiving Housing Benefit, the Co-op sent the Council a “change of circumstances” application, effectively notifying it of the move to the new property, the tenant’s ongoing health issues, and her intention of moving into the new home ASAP. Based on this, the Co-op was expecting the Council to, pay HB to cover a 1 week overlap of rents, during which her belongings were transferred into the new property, and continue HB at the new address, on the basis of the “temporary absence” provisions.
However, the Council simply cancelled HB on the basis, her temporary absence related solely to the old property and, as she was no longer planning to return to her former home, her eligibility had ended. Furthermore, as she had never “physically occupied” the new property, the temporary absence rule could NOT apply. Instead, it suggested, that on her discharge from hospital she could re-apply and ask for HB to be reinstated but, only from a current date, not retrospectively.
The Council’s decision was not what the Co-op was expecting, and the loss of HB, during the period, had already built up 3 months’ rent arrears and was causing concern to both the family and Co-op. When I first examined the facts, I had some sympathy for the Council’s position, but I was mindful of an Upper-tier Tribunal case, which had many similarities to the West Granton case.
The claimant, in that reported case, was a lady (87) who lived in a flat located in LB of Harrow and was receiving HB. She became ill and vulnerable and was eventually hospitalised. Her relatives secured a new home for her in Preston, with effect from 17th February 2004. The HA carried out some adaptions with a view to her moving in on 15th March, 2004 but she was ultimately unable to move in as planned.
The Council, initially refused her claims for both HB & Council Tax on the basis she hadn’t physically occupied her new home, despite the fact her relatives had moved in her furniture and personal belongings at the new address. The UT Judge ruled in her favour, on the basis she had occupied the property by removing her belongings from the old to the new property, and was clearly intending to make the property her home, and so, was covered by the temporary absence rules.
In my opinion, due to the similarities that existed, the UT decision was clearly relevant to the West Granton case. In particular, paragraphs 21-22 were important considerations.
Applying the UT Judge’s ruling, I pointed to:
- From the time her relative moved in her furniture & personal belongings to the new address she had effectively “occupied” the new home and was entitled to receive HB based on her “temporary” absence from it; and
- Believed the Council was wrong to demand a new claim. The circumstances merited the tenant’s claim being treated as a continuation of the old claim (at previous address) with the new award starting from the Monday after the furnishings etc. had been moved in, with the old claim ending the Sunday immediately before.
West Granton Housing wrote asking the Council to review & revise its earlier decision, taking into consideration the Upper-tier decision. Thankfully, the Council accepted the Co-op’s explanation, restored HB, paid the 3 months backdate, clearing the tenant’s rent arrears, and removed the anxiety this had caused to both family & Co-op.
Although this case involves Housing Benefit, the same principles could equally apply to Universal Credit, where the tenant is under “pensionable age”, in receipt of “housing costs”, spends an extended period in hospital, and intends returning home. It’s important to note however, UC rules are less generous than HB, as the absence, due to hospitalisation covers only 26 weeks, a cut of 50%. Not good news for tenants so affected, as this is, most probably, one of the most vulnerable periods in their life!
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UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd