Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 16 Jun 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council failed to consider evidence Mr X’s tenant was in eight weeks arrears of rent before paying her housing benefit. This is fault. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mr X and pay him an amount equal to that paid to his tenant.
- Mr X complains the Council failed to pay him Housing Benefit when his tenant accrued rent arrears of more than eight weeks.
- As a result, Mr X says he did not receive a payment of £1628.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr X about the complaint and considered the information he provided.
- I made written enquiries of the Council and considered its response along with relevant law and guidance.
- I referred to the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies, a copy of which is available on our website.
- Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- Housing Benefit helps people on low incomes pay their rent. It is administered and paid by the Council. The Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 (the Regulations) set out the rules councils must follow for calculating and paying Housing Benefit.
- Usually, housing benefit is paid to the tenant, who is then responsible for paying their landlord.
- The Regulations detail the circumstances in which councils must pay housing benefit to the landlord. This includes where a claimant owes eight weeks or more rent “except where it is in the overriding interest of the claimant not to make direct payments to the landlord.” (Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, section 95 (1)(b))
- Rent is in arrears once the date it is due has passed, regardless of whether it is normally paid in advance or in arrears. The duty for a council to pay a landlord under section 95 only arises if the landlord tells the council about arrears of eight weeks or more. (Housing Benefit and Council Tax Manual, 6.187)
- Mr X is a landlord. The tenant of his property, whom I shall refer to as Ms B, claimed housing benefit to pay her rent.
- Ms B moved into the property in June 2020.
- From July onwards, Mr X was in regular email contact with the Council about Ms B’s rent.
- In August 2020, the Council cancelled Ms B’s housing benefit claim because she told it she was moving out. She did not move out and so asked the Council to reinstate her benefit.
- The Council reinstated the benefit on 16 September 2020. It paid Ms B on the same day.
- The Council says Mr X provided evidence Ms B was eight weeks in arrears on 18 September. Mr X says he provided this information on 9, 11, and 15 September.
- The Council suspended Ms B’s housing benefit claim on 25 September. The Council wrote to Ms B to ask for proof she had paid her rent.
- On 30 October, the Council decided to pay Mr X for the period 14 September to 13 October. From 13 October, Ms B was no longer eligible for Housing Benefit.
- Mr X went to significant time and trouble to make sure he kept the Council up to date about Ms B’s arrears. Mr X provided me copies of his email correspondence with the Council. This shows that on 9 and 11 September he alerted the Council that Ms X would be eight weeks in arrears on 14 September. He provided a spreadsheet showing the arrears and asked that any future payments be to him. On 15 September, Mr X emailed again to confirm that Ms X was now eight weeks in arrears. The Council responded to this email.
- From this point, section 95 of the Regulations applied. The Council should have paid Mr X unless it was “in the overriding interest” of Ms B not to.
- The Council says Mr X did not tell it Ms B was eight weeks in arrears until 18 September. I have seen no evidence of this. When it reinstated payments on 16 September, the Council had enough information to cause it to question whether it should continue paying Housing Benefit to Ms B. In such circumstances, a council usually suspends payments until it has the necessary information to decide who to pay. This is what the Council did on 25 September. Not to have done so before paying Ms B on 16 September was fault.
- Given the Council paid Mr X for the period from 14 September onwards, I find it likely the Council would also have paid him for the previous period were it not for the fault. This is an injustice to Mr X.
- To remedy the injustice to Mr X from the fault I have identified the Council has agreed to:
- Apologise to Mr X in writing
- Pay Mr X an amount equal to that paid to Ms B on 16 September 2020
- Pay Mr X a further £150 in recognition of his time and trouble.
- I have completed my investigation. There is fault by the Council. The action I have recommended is a suitable remedy for the injustice caused.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman