Hertsmere Borough Council (18 010 511)

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

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 15 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint that the Council failed to help when the complainant’s tenants did not pay their rent. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Ms X, complains that the Council did not pay the tenants’ housing benefit to her after she reported that they were not paying the rent.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I considered the housing benefit rules and comments Ms X made in response to a draft of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Housing benefit is claimed by tenants to help them pay their rent. The housing benefit is usually paid to the tenant. However, the law says the Council must pay the housing benefit to the landlord if the landlord provides proof that the tenant has rent arrears of at least eight weeks.
  2. It is the responsibility of the tenant to pay their rent regardless of whether they get housing benefit. The Council cannot intervene in the tenant/landlord relationship.

What happened

  1. Ms X is a landlord. She told the Council that her tenants were not paying the rent. The Council told Ms X it could only pay the housing benefit direct to her once she had provided evidence that the arrears were in excess of eight weeks of rent. The Council said Ms X had said the arrears were £1480 and eight weeks of rent were £2021. The Council invited Ms X to provide evidence once the arrears were £2021.
  2. In late October Ms X sent a document to the Council explaining the tenant had arrears of at least eight weeks. Within about two weeks the Council had diverted the housing benefit payments to Ms X, via her agent.
  3. Ms X is dissatisfied with the response. She says the Council should help once it knows someone is not using the housing benefit to pay their rent. The tenants’ failure to pay the rent has caused financial hardship to Ms X and she has had to spend £900 on a court order.

Assessment

  1. I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
  2. The law says the Council must pay the housing benefit to the landlord once the arrears equate to eight weeks of rent. The Council invited Ms X to provide evidence once the arrears reached that level. The Council was correct to say it could not help until the arrears reached that level. Once the Council received this evidence it was able to pay the housing benefit to Ms X.
  3. The response provided by the Council was based on the national housing benefit regulations which it has to follow. The Council’s response correctly reflects the housing benefit rules so there is no reason to start an investigation. In addition, there is no role for the Council in a private tenant/landlord relationship unless the arrears reach the eight week level.

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Final decision

  1. I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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