6 Months to assess HB claimants rent increase and still no answer!

by Readers Question

9:01 AM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

6 Months to assess HB claimants rent increase and still no answer!

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6 Months to assess HB claimants rent increase and still no answer!

Can anyone with a good knowledge of the housing benefits system give me some insight and information of the redress available to me following my attempt to increase the rent of a housing benefits tenant. I am still awaiting a decision on the increase almost six months later!time scale

In my previous experience LHA’s will deal with these increases as and when they occur and back-pay for any delay in assessing and paying increases, however one tenant of a number who I wrote to in October with rent increases still has not had his housing benefits adjusted despite the new rent being below the maximum rate allowable for their situation and the other three all being adjusted.

As mentioned, in October I wrote to the LHA and the four separate affected tenants giving notice of rent increases to commence in December. I served the appropriate form of notice and sent copies of everything to the LHA (we are in receipt of direct payments for these tenants). I also provided extra copies and stamped addressed envelopes for the tenants to also send the information to the LHA as I was unsure whether they would need to hear it directly from the claimant.

On the appointed increase date (allowing for the fact that rent is paid in arrears by the LHA) none of the increases had been actioned. The one reliable tenant of the four who has any ability to chase up these things for himself chased this up with housing and was told that nothing had been received. He did not let them get away with this and explained that they’d had it twice, and also been sent a further letter notifying them that the increases had not been actioned along with further copies of the original documents. They later found it sitting in someone’s tray, not dealt with.

He was then told it would be approximately ten days before he would hear anything. Fast forward two weeks and another phone call by the tenant, he is told that he has to wait until the next review of his case and that would be another ten days, but in any case they could not back-date the claim. Despite the fact that he’d previously had a review since receiving the increase details but not having the information considered as it was sitting in someone’s tray.

He’s made at least four calls and each time been given a ten-day timescale and I’ve received numerous automated letters stating his benefits have been assessed and giving the exact rate as he has been receiving for years.

In the meantime, one of the other three tenants new rate was adjusted without my intervention (I believe she has a social-worker however who probably actioned things on her behalf thank goodness as I was dreading having to get some action from her myself) and the remaining two again had a payment made of the old amount not adjusted for the increase. I then phoned the LHA myself to try and prompt some action and got the usual ‘we can’t discuss any claims without the claimant’s permission’ to which I said, well you have my letters and my follow up letters can you at least confirm receipt and perhaps action them? ‘We can’t action someone’s claim quicker just because you call and ask’, so I said, well surely you have time guidelines by which you must respond to these things and October to March is probably outside these timescales is it not? Perhaps you could highlight this fact and that may help?’ Dead air…no answer at all…(silent scream of frustration)!

Low and behold I received the next payment along with the required rent increases for these two tenants – Hallelujah! But still no increase for the poor devil who’s been doing all the chasing for his!

I understand there are different types of housing benefits claimants and I strongly suspect due to the length of his claim that this tenant’s claim is dealt with differently from those that I am used to, but I don’t have any real understanding of how that works. He has been on benefits for a long time and has health problems which prevent him working. His claim appears to be reassessed at set intervals and no back-payment is possible.

Can anyone with a better understanding of the different types of benefits and the rules and ways of assessing them give me some insight and tell me if I have any redress for this horrifically slow action? It is almost April and I first notified them in October of the increase yet they have still not made an assessment of the claim almost six months later. He was today told it would be another ten days!

Many thanks

Kathleen



Comments

Ray Davison

13:06 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

You aint seen nothing yet! Just wait until Universal Credit kicks in, then you will know what complicated really is! If you work in that sector, I definitely recommend that you get yourself some training about UC.

I would just up all the rents to the max that your tenants circumstances will provide under LHA - that will give your council something to think about!

Robert Mellors

13:24 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Hi Kathleen,

Councils are forever losing documents and then denying receipt of them, so now I NEVER send anything to them by post, everything is scanned and sent to them by e-mail, because I can then prove exactly when it was sent to them, and if necessary I can send them a copy of the e-mail when I chase up the decision.

Original Housing Benefit claims are either done online, or I personally hand them in at the council and get a receipt, I never rely on tenants to do this. The housing application for that tenants complete provides the information needed for completing the HB claims, and there is a declaration of truth similar to the one on the HB claim form (and it also states that the information may be used for the completion of their HB claim).

As part of the tenancy sign up process the tenant signs an authorisation which asks the council to discuss the claim with the landlord, this is an appendix to the tenancy agreement document (so I cannot forget to do it). This is separate and in addition to the authorisation on the HB claim itself.

After submitting the HB claim, I then scan the tenancy agreement, the authorisation, and the tenant's proof of benefits (benefit entitlement letters), and e-mail these to the council, along with the HB claim reference. That way I know (and can prove) that all required information has been provided to the council.

When it comes to any rent increases, I take the same approach, i.e. I do not rely on the tenant to action it, I send it (by e-mail) to the Council along with any evidences required (e.g. copy of rent increase letter or new tenancy agreement).

This process means that the HB dept are able to communicate with me about all aspects of the HB claim, e.g. the cause of any delays. It also means that I have a full audit trail of communications, should I ever need to sue the council for maladministration.

In relation to your particular situation, and assuming you have now sent (by e-mail, or physically handed in and got a receipt) the council some written authorisation from the tenant allowing them to discuss the HB claim with you, then you should now write to the council asking them what has caused the delay and what further information they need in order to make their decision. Ask them to reply to you within 14 days. (of course, send by e-mail or hand in and get a receipt). - After 14 days, if you have not got a reply, then write a formal letter of complaint (giving a full chronology of events, e.g. dates letters sent, telephone calls made, etc), and follow the council's complaints procedure until the matter is resolved.

All decisions, however long it takes them to make their decision, should be backdated to the date of claim (or declared change of circumstance, - in this case the date of the rent increase).

Robert Mellors

13:30 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Ray makes a very valid point, Universal Credit will complicate and delay matters even more, as well as pay the money direct to your tenants.

The types of problems you are facing now, (and those to come), are the main reasons why so few landlords now accept tenants in receipt of HB/LHA, and of those few landlords that do take HB tenants, then they have to charge a higher rent so as to account for the extra risks and work involved.

Ray Davison

13:34 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Robert Mellors" at "24/03/2016 - 13:24":

It seems you must have been on the wrong end of council failings in the past Robert!

Are you saying that you actually submit the Tenants HB claim as I didn't know the Landlord was allowed to do this? Although more work for us it would make things smoother with some Tenants although some a re very good I have to say.

Would it be possible for you to share the authorisation form that you use please? I have used such a thing in the past and still had Data Protection thrown at me! Does your form work with the DWP for UC as well or have you not experienced that yet?

On a side note, given that UC was an IDS pet project I wonder if the roll-out may be delayed?

Robert Mellors

14:01 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Ray Davison" at "24/03/2016 - 13:34":

Hi Ray

Yes, I deal with eight different local authorities, and often have to tell them how to do their assessments so that they can correct the errors they make. - Just had a load of decisions (49 of them I believe) this month backdated to July 2015, and even then the council have done every single one of them wrong (most, but not all, the same error, regarding eligible/ineligible service charges), so I've had to point out to them what they have done wrong and why it is wrong, and they are now having to re-assess all of them and again back date back to July last year! - This is an example of the "extra work" involved with dealing with HB tenants.

In terms of whether a landlord can submit HB claims on behalf of the tenants, then yes, there is nothing to prevent this so long as you are putting in the information the tenant has provided, AND the tenant is aware of the information being submitted and has read (or had read to them) the declaration, and has signed it. There is usually provision on the form for other people to complete the form on the claimant's behalf (but not sign it on their behalf, unless you are an official appointee).

If it is a paper based HB claim form then clearly you get the tenant to sign the completed form before you hand it in to the Council. If it is an online application, then it would be wise to have the declaration on the form where you gather the required HB information signed by the tenant so that you can prove that this is the information provided by the tenant for their HB claim.

In relation to the form of authorisation, if you e-mail me direct I will send you a copy of the authorisation form that I use (it has never been rejected by any local authority). Yes, the form works for the DWP and other organisations as well. e-mail: robert.mellors@hotmail.co.uk

Ray Davison

14:18 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Thanks Robert, I will drop you a line.

I only deal with Two LA's and one makes up the bulk. They are pretty good normally but it depends who you get and what you want to discuss. I have not come face to face with UC myself yet but have done some digging and am dreading it somewhat!

Gary Nock

15:17 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

I am so glad I do not deal with HB tenants and have got nothing but admiration for those that do.

Kate Mellor

16:36 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Thanks for such a detailed answer Robert. I've printed it out for reference!

I have NEVER yet had a single response to any email to our LHA. Not one has been either answered or actioned, which is why I resorted to old fashioned paper!

I do not hold out any hope of getting any explanation from them as to the cause of the delay as the tenant himself just keeps getting fobbed off with the old '10 day' answer and they've acknowledged some time ago that they have all the necessary information.

I'm going to do some research on the guidelines/timescales they are supposed to adhere to so I can quote these at them before I start.

I just wondered had anyone ever heard of types of claimants who were not entitled to back-dated claims for increases which occurred prior to their claim reviews?

Ian Ringrose

16:48 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Issue a S8(Ground 10) to the tenant and maybe also write to your MP explaining why. it is the tenants problem to pay the rent, therefore they must sort out there OWN housing benefit claim.

Kate Mellor

17:23 PM, 24th March 2016
About 3 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Ian Ringrose" at "24/03/2016 - 16:48":

Yes, quite true Ian, but this tenant has been with us for 16 years and is a brilliant tenant and god love him he is doing his best to sort it out.

I have just found LHA Guidance Manual on the Gov.uk website so I shall have some 85 pages worth of informative reading tonight!

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/324708/lha-guidance-manual.pdf

That's the web address if anyone's having trouble sleeping!

I've already found out that they can dock tenants other benefits to make up rent arrears! Now that's something they keep very quiet about!!!

I figure if I can quote them chapter and verse of their own HB Reg numbers then I should get some action. I've just found they only have 14 days from receiving all the information to decide claims, so this may well apply to rent increases if I can only find it in the proof.

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