RLA members may recall an earlier article involving an aunt and niece, where Housing Benefit had been wrongly refused, simply on the basis of their close family relationship. With my help, both eventually secured payment, including a backdated award, but not without a prelonged  period of worry & anxiety and very real possibility the aunt might have lost her property, due to threats of repossession made by her lender bank.

This same issue repeatedly arises, and, if anything, is becoming even more frequent, as DWP takes on the mantle of assessing and paying “housing costs” under Universal Credit.  However, whether it’s the Council or DWP that makes the adverse decision, the good news is, the chances of successfully challenging these decisions is very high, if you know how to tackle the problem.

My latest case involved a dispute between mother (claimant), son (landlord) and one of the London Boroughs. The mother had, in January 2019, received notice from, her then landlord, who wished to repossess the property for his own use. The mother, in her late 70’s, had only months before been in hospital and was left very frail. Her son initially spoke to Social Services and the Council’s Housing team about securing sheltered housing but were advised there was little chance of that happening, certainly in forseable future, and that she’d be better looking to the Private Sector.

The son registered her interest on various Estate Agency portals but nothing suitable and affordable was readily available. Realising they were running out of time, the son purchased a property himself, using a small personal investment company he’d set up, due to changes in tax laws. As the mother was already in receipt of Housing Benefit and the rent, he was proposing was less expensive, they didn’t foresee any problem. However, literally days after the HB application was made, the claim was refused on the basis – yes, you’ve guessed it – the claim represented an “abuse of the HB scheme”.

Initially, the mother, assisted by her son, appealed the decision. In response, the Council, instead of referring the appeal to the Tribunal Service, sent both a long list of questions to answer. Both completed and returned their respective questionnaires but failed to convince the Council that the relationship between mother & son was commercial in nature, and its decision should be reversed. Two further sets of questions were later sent and answered; again, with the same result. It was at that point the son sought my help.

I drafted a very detailed submission for the mother and urged referral to the Tribunal Service. After one month, I also wrote to the Council’s Chief Executive highlighting how the Council was effectively, delaying referral whilst on a fishing expedition, with its series of questions, hoping to secure evidence to use against my clients, rather than resolve the dispute.

I referred him to an Upper-tier Tribunal decision relating to another HB case, which exhibited similar characteristics. It states:

“Some LAs have abused the possibility of “reconsideration” to delay, sometimes virtually indefinitely, the submission of the appeal to the tribunal. The technique involves asking a large number of supplementary, often in tendentious terms, so that the “reconsideration” can be carried out. If the questions are not answered, or information is not supplied, the appellant is told – quite unlawfully – that the claim has been withdrawn or terminated. If the questions are answered, further questions are asked seeking to exploit inconsistencies.”   

My email to the CEO thankfully forced the Council to review and revise its decision, in my client’s favour, avoiding the need for Tribunal, and permitting an award from the date of claim.

The outcome was of great relief to both mother & son as the alternative of having to sell the property and, in the process, make this elderly and frail lady homeless, was unthinkable!

Anyone experiencing similar problems should seek professional advice and support, as the law, whilst supportive of the claimants position, is complex and often involves the need to present your case to a First-tier tribunal.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd