Campaigns Welfare Reform and Homelessness

BLOG: Universal Credit and pursuing complaints

Bill Irvine
Written by Bill Irvine
RLA trainer, and housing benefits expert Bill Irvine, returns with his Universal Credit column for private landlords housing benefit tenants. Here, Bill describes one of his recent cases around recouping losses and explains how to pursue complaints, when mistakes have been made.

The following case, published on the local government and social care ombudsman website relates to following case published on the local government and social care ombudsman relates to a Local Government Ombudsman decision, relating to Housing Benefit (LHA), and the failure of Liverpool City Council to fulfil its earlier decision, to redirect payments to the Landlord, rather than the tenant, by naming the landlord “payee”. The decision to do so, was based on Regulation 96 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 which permits councils some discretion to redirect, for example, where the tenant requests this, due to an inability to manage their own affairs, perhaps because of drug or alcohol addiction or when it’s found, earlier payments made to the tenant are being misused, causing rental loss and a build-up of rent arrears which might contribute to the landlord taking “repossession” action.

The Council having made the decision to pay the landlord, then promptly paid nearly £1000 to the tenant who failed to hand this over. The Ombudsman’s decision stated:

  1. Mrs X’s tenant received £966.56 in benefit which should have been paid to Mrs X, because the Council agreed that it would do so. The tenant did not pass this on to Mrs X and Mrs X has been unable to recover this from the tenant. Mrs X has lost out on £966.56, because of the Council’s fault
  2. Where the Ombudsman finds fault causing injustice we seek to put the complainant back in the position they would have been if the Council had not been at fault. The Council should therefore pay Mrs X. I acknowledge that it cannot pay housing benefit twice for the same period. However, Mrs X should be recompensed for the money she did not receive due to Council fault.

Landlords dealing with LHA tenants will be all too aware of this scenario. Many assume there’s nothing they can do to recoup their losses, when, in fact, there’s various options available, depending on exactly what’s happened. I often pursue these cases, on behalf of my landlord clients on a “No win, No fee” basis.

In one case I dealt with a few years ago, the LGO instructed the London Borough of Merton Council to pay £7000 to my client, after the Council had paid this sum by mistake to the single parent tenant, who refused to hand over the cash. By the time the Council started its investigation she had blown the money, in the full knowledge it wasn’t hers.

More recently, I’ve dealt with several similar cases involving Universal Credit, where, despite APAs having been agreed, payment was made mistakenly to the tenant and misused. In these cases, I argued the payments made to the tenants were “unlawful” making use of some Housing Benefit caselaw. To my surprise, DWP conceded the point with little or no fight, making remedial payments to my clients and agreed to recover the unlawful payments, as “overpayments”, from the tenants. One such case is highlighted here 

If you require any further information on this or any other Housing Benefit or Universal Credit issue, please contact me bill@ucadvice.co.uk or phone 07733 080 389.

Learn more:
  • The RLA runs a course on Universal Credit
  • RLA Director Richard Jones and Senior Policy Officer Natalie Williamson recently spent the day at Widnes Job Centre Plus seeing how Universal Credit full service operates on the front line. You can read that blog post here.
  • Welfare reform will be on the agenda at the RLA’s next Future Renting Conference in London this September. For more information and to secure your ticket visit our conference page at  https://www.rla.org.uk/future-renting/

About the author

Bill Irvine

Bill Irvine

Bill has quickly become known as a very effective Welfare Rights Advocate. He has been involved in most of the major social security changes since the early 80’s when Housing Benefit was first introduced. As well as offering advice and assistance to landlords, primarily in the RSL/PRS sectors, he also provides representation when disputes can’t be resolved through negotiation and where they have to be progressed through the formal tribunal process, initially to First Tier and, if necessary, through to Upper Tier level where some of his cases have proved to be of national importance to disadvantaged groups.

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