Housing Benefits over payment recovery from landlord issues?

by Readers Question

13:02 PM, 5th September 2016
About 2 years ago

Housing Benefits over payment recovery from landlord issues?

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Housing Benefits over payment recovery from landlord issues?

I have received a Housing Benefit (HB) Over payment recovery decision notice from the council, which is saying they will recover the over payment from myself (Landlord). Obviously this was a bit of a shock, as all I do is receive the HB for the tenants living in the property from the Council directly and have no part in the benefits process other then this.housing benefits

The benefits decision notice is very vague and does not say why they are wanting to recover from myself and what reason the benefits were overpaid. From what I can understand or make of it is that the tenants rate has changed to £0 which would make me think the tenant was not eligible for HB during that period, and the council have just found some information that voids their eligibility.

Having a look all over the forums and articles the first advice given is finding out the cause of the over payment.

I could not think of any obvious or possible reason, other than matters that a Landlord may not be privy to ie. tenants financial situation etc. I have just looked through historical payment slips from the council and tenancy agreements (every half yearly), as a result I think I’ve found something;

1. The HB over payment seems to relate to one of the tenants, as we have been receiving or used to receive HB payments for multiple tenants in the property.

2. The Tenant that we think this relates to had their name removed of the tenancy agreement although still remained a tenant of the property, which ties into the date that the benefits over payments started.

A couple of questions that I’m hoping the experienced lot here can guide me on so I have a rough idea of where I stand, what can go in my way or against me.

Q1. I do not know much about the benefits process, for one to claim HB do they have to be named on the tenancy agreement?
Q2. The tenants name was removed from the tenancy agreement, yet the payment letters from the council listed her name, would this be my fault for not noticing this and not informing the council/HB department?
Q3. Would the cause of this overpayment lie with;
i. the tenant as they knew their name was not on the tenancy yet still claimed and did not inform the council?
ii. the council for not checking the tenancy agreement to confirm eligibility of the tenants?
iii. the landlord for failing to notice the points mentioned in Q2 and informing the council?

I do intent on writing a letter for a further explanation and asking why they want to recover from me and not the tenants (claiment) and what caused the overpayment, but just worried their answer may be vague, after which it can be decided how to proceed.

Any and all advice given would be appreciated.

Regards

Naz



Comments

Robert Mellors

9:47 AM, 6th September 2016
About 2 years ago

Hi Naz

Q1. Yes, they have to be a tenant (or licensee) in order to be entitled to Housing Benefit.
Q2. Tenants cannot remove their own name from a tenancy agreement. A tenancy agreement is a legal document agreed between both the landlord and the tenant, so either you agreed to the change (and presumably issued a new tenancy without that person on it), or the tenancy came to an end via the correct notice procedure, in which case the whole tenancy agreement (for all joint tenants) ended. The council expect you as the landlord to advise them of any changes that you are aware of (or could reasonably be aware of).
Q3. Regardless of the cause, if the claimant was not entitled to the Housing Benefit then the council will want to get it back, and they will seek to recover it from the person it was paid to (in this case, you). They can do this by issuing you with an invoice, and if you do not pay it then they will deduct the money from any other payments of HB due to come to you, through a process called "blameless tenant recovery".

The council's right to "clawback" Housing Benefit incorrectly paid to a landlord is one of the many reasons why landlords do not accept Housing Benefit tenants.

Naz N

22:45 PM, 7th September 2016
About 2 years ago

Neil. Thanks, I hadn’t come across these two articles, so will have a read. I did however read another article on property118, which had a lot of helpful comments, as a result providing a better understanding on how to approach such matters, especially the advice given by Bill Irvine, which was to first ascertain if there should be an overpayment and if yes what caused it, then going onto the the appeal process/case laws and the stuff above me 🙂

Robert. Your first assumption is correct, one of the three tenants had requested I take their name off and replace it with another family members (who also resides at the property), so when the tenancy came to an end after 6 months, a new 6 month tenancy was provided with the amendments made as requested. That is my worry, as I geniuinly had no idea (which only now I know) that a HB claimant has to be on the tenancy to be eligble for HBs and therefore I had not thought to inform the council, as my understanding was that removing a tenant from the tenancy agreement just meant they would not be legally liable for any thing in the contract. (lack of knowledge of the HB/Tenancy process on my behalf, for which I put my hands up to)

I have never had any issues with the HB tenants for over 10 years until now, so now I can see why now some landlords avoid HB tenants amongst other reasons.

I was of the understanding or at least from what I’ve read in the HB legislation 2006, in my own words/understanding that the payment should really be collected from the most liable person that caused the overpayment or contributed towards it the most if both the tenant and landlord were liable. In my case if my assumption behind the cause being correct, then it will be a difficult one to appeal.

Update: I have spoken to the tenants yesterday and they said they will speak to the HB department to see what caused this overpayment, and believe that it may be related to their finances as the council had been speaking with them. Would have thought the council would confirm before sending it out, or maybe as I've read on numerous posts the council tend to go for the Landlord as they are more likely to pay then the HB tenants. A matter of waiting before I do anything or decide how to proceed, in the interim I sent a letter to the council for additional information and an explanation behind the overpayment and why it’s come to me.

Colin McNulty

14:07 PM, 14th September 2016
About 2 years ago

Argh, the deadly Clawback of HB!

You are best engaging the services of Bill Irvine, as you mention, I believe he has experience in fighting cases like this.

I too had a clawback issue, where the rent for a whole HMO was withheld by the council one month due to a single tenant's overpayment. Fortunately I use Tasker Payment Services. It costs £4 per tenant per payment but effectively means that the tenants are paid direct, so the clawback was invalid and I got all the monies refunded.


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