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Around £1 Billion of Housing Benefit Overpayments are identified as recoverable every year and, at any time, around £2 Billion remains outstanding despite the recovery efforts of local councils. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/sy...t-2015.pdf
DWP provides guidance and subsidy incentives to councils, encouraging recovery from those considered culpable. Currently, local councils receive a subsidy bonus of 40% for monies recovered from either the tenant or landlord. So, in the case of a landlord appeal, I'm dealing with just now, involving an alleged overpayment of £20,000, the potential reward for recovery would be £8000.
Landlords experience the impact of these perverse subsidies, as every year, some councils automatically pursue landlords, rather than their tenants, knowing they'll recover the monies much quicker (usually lump sum) from the landlord, which, in turn, expedites payment of the subsidy bonus. This also includes where they recover from tenants, by deducting £11 per week from their ongoing HB award.. So, it's not surprising some councils see this as a way of generating revenue for the council, although few, if any, will admit to this.
During the past year, I've been representing a landlord, in an appeal, on a point of law, to the Upper-tier tribunal. The case had first been listed before a First-tier tribunal, where the appointed Judge agreed with the council that the £2000 should be recoverable from the landlord on the basis he should have known and reported his tenant's acation of the property. I drafted the application for leave to appeal to the Upper-tier tribunal. Judge Turnbull, the appointed judge, agreed with our view that the First-tier Judge had failed to consider a key part of the overpayment regulations wich can exempt landlords from culpability. He invited the Council to comment on his preliminary view. The Council agreed, so he proceeded to set aside the original tribunal's decision; exonerated my client from any culpability; and determined his ex-tenant was culpable, due to the fact she had clealry failed to notify both the council and landlord of her vacation from the property; something she agreed to when she made her application. As a consequence, she had breached her obligations to disclose the change and it was this failure that caused the overpayment in the first instance. Contrastingly, my client didn't know what was happening, as there were no red flags, so his mistaken belief HB was being paid correctly, was reasonably held.
My client is understandably delighted he doesn't have to repay the £2000. From my point of view, I've another Upper-tier judgement I can use to good effect in any further client appeals, as such judgements are binding on the lower level. However, on the downside, the appeal process has taken the best part of 2 years to conclude, and could, quite easily, have foundered. Had I become involved, at the initial stage, I'm convinced, through my experience with other such appeals, the same result good have been achieved in a fraction of that time.
I used to run the HB Overpayments training for CIH all over the UK. Initially, it was council Decision Makers who attended. But, as the years passed, more and more delegates came from Housing Association or PRS Landlord/Agent backgrounds as they were increasingly feeling the adverse affects and needed to find a way to challenge council practice.
Based on my experience of what can happen, my advice to clients is to seek advice on how to tackle these overpayment demands, rather than tackle them yourself, especially where the value of recovery involves £2000 plus. Demands for £1k - £10k are now quite commonplace - a lot of money in anyone's terms. Surprisingly, many of my housing associaiton clients simply accept the demand and pay up. PRS landlords are much less likely to do so.
Don't just accept the demand; have your position checked first by someone who fully understands the issues. It costs nothing to do so, and, in most cases, you'll find there will be sufficient grounds to appeal, and success can be achieved in more than 50% of cases, so it's well worth the effort.
If you require any further advice on this or any other welfare topic please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07733 080 389.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd
This is very interesting indeed thank you Bill
But Its a another very good reason not to have Customers on LHA/UC/HB
95% of my customers have Guarantors even if they work and this just shows more reason to have them
If you are forced to pay back You next port of call is the Guarantor
Learn Change and Adapt ?????
All comments are for casual information purposes only. If you wish to rely on any advice I have given please ensure you obtain independent specialist advice from a third party. No liability is accepted for comments made.
Great work by Bill
Can you imagine waiting 2 years to find out whether the council is going to rob you.
Not that I ever intend to, but if I ever had HB tenants I would not accept direct payment.
I would require them to use a CU
I know Bill has a great track record in beating these stupid councils
I just prefer not to have all the grief!
Just another one if many reasons not to take on HB tenants
Never met one that could supply a guarantor that could pass RGI checks.
If a guarantor can't do that then they are pretty useless as a guarantor.
You can't wait years for recovery you need the rent next month!!