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Category : Benefits and tax > Housing benefit and council tax benefit

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 09 Nov 2010

Summary

The London Borough of Newham gave wrong advice to a woman about local housing allowance (LHA), leaving her with rent arrears.

The complaint

The Ombudsman said:

“Both [the complainant] and her landlord sought specific advice from the Council regarding the appropriate LHA rate for this particular property … They were given the wrong advice because at least one officer failed to check the correct LHA rate for a property of its type in its location. This was fault by the Council which caused injustice to the complainant who is contractually obliged to meet her rent obligation without now having the means to do so.”

‘Miss Thornton’ (not her real name for legal reasons) lived in temporary accommodation provided by the Council. She complained that the Council gave her misleading information about the amount of LHA that she would be entitled to when she sought a move from her accommodation. She now has rent arrears that she is unable to pay due to the shortfall in the LHA paid.

The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice. The Council admitted that it gave the wrong information about the potential LHA, due to an officer believing that the accommodation was in a different borough. This caused injustice to Miss Thornton because she was unable to make up the shortfall in the rent.

The Council believed that its offer to support Miss Thornton to move to alternative affordable accommodation through its bond scheme was an appropriate remedy for her complaint. The Ombudsman did not agree, and said:

“l do not consider that it was reasonable for the Council to expect Miss Thornton to move home when its error came to light. Miss Thornton would still be contractually liable for the rent as a result of the assured shorthold tenancy agreement she had entered into with her landlord. Neither did she want the additional upheaval that a further move would cause her and her daughter, nor the additional expense which is inevitably associated with moving house.”

Recommendations

To remedy the injustice, the Council complied with the Ombudsman's recommendations to:

  • pay Miss Thornton £899.60 to make up the shortfall between the amount of LHA advised by the Council and the amount that LHA paid
  • pay Miss Thornton £250 for her time and trouble, and
  • remind officers to check the Valuation Office Agency’s website to ensure that it gives the correct advice regarding LHA rates.

LGO satisfied with Council's response: 4 August 2011

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