LHA Top Tips for landlords. Article 5 in a series of 8
Be thorough, do it once and do it right.
- Offer to complete all paperwork with the tenant but always hand it in to the council yourself. Ensure that you give the tenant copies of all paperwork. When you deliver paperwork to the council always keep copies for yourself and always obtain a receipt. Lost paperwork will seriously delay the application and you will need to be clear where the responsibility lies if you have to go through a complaints procedure.
- Be thorough in chasing the application. Diarise follow up calls or visits at regular intervals to ensure the council have everything they need to process the claim. Make detailed notes whenever you deal with the council, including who you spoke to what was said and any follow up actions agreed.
- Explain the Tenancy agreement in detail to the tenant. At Castledene we have a “Your tenancy agreement at a glance” sheet which basically explains the main points of our AST in layman’s terms; it includes points such as the tenant’s responsibility for Housing Benefit payments, that they cannot leave within the first 6 months or their guarantor will be liable for the rent, notice periods, responsibility for damage and upkeep etc.. Ask them to sign a copy as this can be very useful if the tenant ever says they didn’t fully understand the AST.
- If you require a guarantor, always try to meet them and explain what their responsibilities are and what may happen if the tenant defaults on rent or damages the property. Explain that you will require the tenant to sign a professional inventory prior to their moving into the property. Always get a home owner guarantor so that they have assets to back up their guarantee. You need proof that the guarantor owns their own home in the form of a mortgage statement, a letter from a solicitor or the title deeds. Ensure that this evidence is less than 3 months old.
- Make sure in your guarantor agreement it states that if any overpayments are taken from you up to 6 years after the tenant leaves the property (this is how long after your tenant leaves the council can try and claim an overpayment), the guarantor will be responsible for that debt
- The guarantor will have 7 days cooling off period if they sign your guarantor agreement at a registered business office. Make sure the tenant has NOT moved in within that 7 day period. If they have and the guarantor then refuses to be a guarantor you have no comeback.
- If you intend to request direct payments, and I strongly recommend that you do, always build up as much evidence as possible and send it in with the claim, for example debt letters, medical evidence, letters from doctors or support worker etc… New guidance from April 1st 2011 gives the council further discretion to pay the landlord direct if they consider that direct payment will help secure the tenancy. For a tenancy to be secure or retained it is implicit that the rent should be affordable. What this means is that you only charge the going bedroom rate for the property and don’t require a top up. Remember this is still a discretionary decision.
- Every time you speak to the council always ask if a decision has been made as to who they are paying, you or the tenant. If you are advised that the tenant is going to be paid direct then immediately ask for the claim to be put on suspend and revisit any evidence you submitted with the claim that supported your request for direct payments. Ask for the evidence to be reviewed by a supervisor or senior benefit officer for reconsideration and explain that in the event that the tenant misses rent payments in future you would seek an equivalent amount in compensation plus admin costs. If you have previously made successful applications for direct payments with similar evidence then these may be useful to support your current claim. If you are still unhappy with any decision the council make, and feel you have enough evidence to support otherwise, ask for their complaints procedure. You can also make a formal complaint to your local government ombudsman. For further details see www.lgo.org.uk
- If a rent top up is going to be required from your tenant, you will already have advised them how much and when it will need to be paid and that you will require this to be done via a direct debit. Ensure the direct debit is set up prior to the tenant moving into the property. It is possible to be notified immediately if a tenant cancels a direct debit so that you are able to act accordingly. At Castledene we also ask for at least one month and up to three month’s top-up in advance to ensure that the payment is within the tenants means.
- Don’t forget to ask the tenant to change their address with the DWP. Offer to do this with them to ensure there are no unnecessary hold ups when the council process the application.
About John Paul
John Paul is a portfolio landlord in the North East and founder of the Castledene Group of letting agents which employs 17 ARLA-trained staff. The business has client money protection with NALS, PI insurance and subscribes to the Property Ombudsman Code of Practice. Offices are located in Read More