The Pointless Housing Benefit Helpline

The Pointless Housing Benefit Helpline

16:39 PM, 5th December 2011, About 12 years ago 8

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I’ve just come off the phone to our local housing benefit “help” line, scraped myself off the ceiling and stopped terrifying the handyman (who is putting up shelves) with my expletives. Based on previous experience, I don’t know why I thought this call could ever be a productive use of time.

It begins with a tenant who has refused to answer my calls after not being seen at the house for over a month and is late in paying his rent top up as his LHA (local housing allowance) is paid direct to me. His room contains too many items to be considered abandoned and I’ve already served his Section 21 notice. Being the law abiding, decent landlord that I think I am and reading all the legal blurb, I consider that he still has a tenancy until I apply to court for a possession order. Until now, the LHA has arrived in the bank so I’ve been receiving half rent in arrears, but as of today I’m receiving nowt.

So, before jumping to conclusions, I contact the Council “help” line as I know that the tenant gave them permission to discuss his claim with me. All I wanted to know was:
Me: “Have you stopped the payment because the tenant has made a claim for another property?”
Call Centre Robot: “It’s been suspended”
Me: “Yes, I know. But has the tenant made another claim or have you suspended it for fun? E.g. has he moved on without telling me or has he not responded to your letters asking him to contact you?”
Call Centre Robot: “You’ll have to talk to the tenant. It’s been suspended.”
Me: “I have left countless messages on his phone, visited his local haunts and put out an APB for him amongst his ropey associates with no joy. It would really help me to know what to do next, legally, if I can get a better understanding of the situation.”
Call Centre Robot: “Madam, you will have to contact your tenant.”
Me: “Excellent advice which I hadn’t thought of, thank you. In the meantime, please let it be known at your pointless monthly Housing Benefit meetings that it’s a legal requirement for landlords to inform Housing Benefit if a tenant’s circumstances change but apparently you don’t have to let us know in return. Would you consider this to be fair?
Call Centre Robot: *Silence……..* “Talk to your tenant. Goodbye”

And the powers that be wonder why we’re all not rushing to provide homes for LHA claimants?! What really p****s me off is that, as I have to play by the rules, a good room has gone empty for a couple of months and I’m STILL going to have to apply to Court for possession in case he comes back to claim his manky, stained bed and the equally unappealing pants he’s clearly been missing along with all the other c**p that I wouldn’t insult a charity shop with.

Councils: Landlords are human beings too and capable of making common sense decisions. We are not all bastards and sometimes just want a little bit of information so we can do our job properly. I’m sorry you feel the need to treat us with disdain and hope that, one day, you’ll get the promotion and pension you’ve been dreaming of. HMO Landlady xxxxx

Reader, if this sounds harsh, I have a wealth of other equally fruitless conversations with Housing Benefit up my sleeve and am always very reasonable and haven’t yet raised my voice to the Robot.

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9:37 AM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

Have you thought of leaving a letter at the property saying, "I am assuming that you have vacated. If I am wrong in this assumption, please get in contact with me and pay the back rent within 14 days, otherwise I will take back possession of the room."?
If he fails to get in contact then I would have thought that would give you a reasonable defence against an unlawful eviction/harassment claim from him..

Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:13 AM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

@ HMO Landlady. Now I have stopped laughing I can think clearly and respond.

The great HB issue is not unfamiliar to us in the council either. When I am tring to track down a rogue landlord HB is my first port of call because they often have addresses and contact details that we dont have, similarly enviornmental health looking to get hold of landlords to serve notices on dangerous properties need info that only HB have got but we often meet the same problem as you.

The only way I can get the info is because I have a mate who I have known for years who works there. I am often in the ridiculous position of having environmental health contact me to contact my contact to find out information that will help them prevent a building from burning down.

@Paul. Better have a look at my other P118 article for an explanation of the problem with your suggestion

11:58 AM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

Ben, doesn't your "mate" ploy break data protection regulations? If not, then its a bit rich that we can not obtain any information about a tenant, evan after being given permission by the tenant. I have had many similar problems myself. Calling these HB call center people Robots is an overstatement to their intelligence and ability.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:42 PM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

Not for me and EH Mike, we are prosecuting officers and entitled to information persuant to legitimate criminal investigations, as such we can request all sorts of holding info, even from banks about account holders.

14:08 PM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

Well yes, I agree my suggestion is not without risk but you have to set that risk against the time and cost of getting a possession order and warrant of possession, which as we all know is the only risk free option. I guess landlords have to factor in to the rent a contingency for this sort of thing as at some point you will encounter this sort of thing.


21:56 PM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

I caught up with the HB Manager at the NLA meeting yesterday and he told me that they've recently outsourced the council tax and housing benefit helpline to a call centre in a different county which is a shame as I kind of miss the guys I'd got to know by name. Whilst they couldn't be of any help either at least they didn't talk to me as though I was trying to access MI5 secrets! HB manager v sympathetic and I reckon he has far worse challenges than I.

23:04 PM, 8th December 2011, About 12 years ago

Why not just change the number on the door. If your tenant comes back tell him he must have dreamt it!

10:14 AM, 9th December 2011, About 12 years ago

Hi Ben, if what you say is the case, and I've no reason to doubt it, why do you need to use your mate? You say this is "The only way I can get the info" which implies you should be going through more official routes to get the information - good luck with that. Also, if the information you seek is for legimitate criminal investigation, then aren't you assuming the landlord is probably guilty of a criminal offence? Thanks for that. If only there was an organisation that was as rigorous in chasing tenants for unpaid rent, paid to them as LHA, oh, and also for damage caused to the properties they have left. Don't even think about the police or courts, we all know how useful there are to landlords.

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