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Lincoln City Council (21 015 372)

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

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 09 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complained the Council failed to advise her to claim universal credit after she submitted a claim for housing benefit. The Council was at fault as it failed to respond to Miss X’s correspondence which meant she missed out on housing payments she was entitled to. The Council has agreed to make a payment to Miss X to remedy this.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complained the Council failed to advise her to claim universal credit after she submitted a claim for housing benefit. As a result, she says she has missed out on housing payments she was entitled to which caused her distress and anxiety. Miss X would like the Council to pay her the money she missed out on.

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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’. 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)
  2. If we are satisfied with an organisation’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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information provided by Miss X and discussed the complaint with her on the telephone. I have considered the Council’s response to our enquiries.
  2. I gave Miss X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision. I considered any comments I received in reaching a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Housing benefit is a means tested benefit administered by local authorities to help people on low incomes with their rent payments.
  2. Universal credit was introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012. This rolls together a number of benefits, including housing payments that were previously met by housing benefit. Universal credit is administered by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
  3. Except for certain limited circumstances, those below state pension age who make a new claim for benefits will receive universal credit.

What happened

  1. On 17 May 2021 Miss X wrote to the Council. The letter stated ‘I would like to apply for housing benefit and council tax support due to my savings now being below £16,000. I am at present in receipt of employment and support allowance and personal independence payments’. Miss X included copies of bank statements.
  2. On 8 September 2021 Miss X telephoned the Council to ask what was happening with her claim. She says she did not chase it up sooner as she believed the Council may have a backlog due to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. The council officer advised Miss X she would have to claim for universal credit to get housing benefit. They advised no action had been taken with her letter.
  3. Miss X met with a Council welfare adviser on 15 September 2021 who assisted her to complete a claim for universal credit and for council tax support. On the council tax support claim form Miss X stated she had written to the Council to claim in May but had received no response by letter, email or telephone. Miss X also complained to the Council.
  4. The Council responded to Miss X’s complaint later that month. It accepted when it received Miss X’s letter it should have contacted her and advised her to complete an on-line form. It apologised that this did not happen. It said when it had received her application it had dealt with it as if it had received it in May and had backdated her council tax support accordingly.
  5. Miss X remained unhappy and asked to go the next stage of the complaints’ procedure in November 2021. She said the Department of Work and Pensions was refusing to backdate her universal credit claim to May 2021 so she had missed out on four months of housing payments to support with her rent.
  6. The Council responded at the next stage of the complaints’ procedure in December 2021. It said when it had received the letter Miss X should have been advised that she needed to complete an application form for council tax support and that she would need to contact the DWP to claim universal credit. The Council explained this was down to human error and apologised. It said it could not pay housing benefit as she was not eligible for it but a claim should have been made for housing costs to the DWP. It advised Miss X to put in a claim for a mandatory reconsideration of her request to have her universal credit backdated. Miss X said she did this but her claim was refused.
  7. Miss X remained unhappy and complained to us.

Findings

  1. When Miss X wrote to the Council in May 2021 it failed to take any action in response to her letter. It failed to advise her to complete an application form for council tax support and failed to advise her to claim universal credit. This was fault. The Council backdated Miss X’s application for council tax support which remedied some of the injustice caused. However universal credit is a benefit administered by the DWP, not the Council, and the DWP refused Miss X’s application to have the housing payment of her universal credit backdated.
  2. The Council has already apologised for its error. However, Miss X had specifically told the Council she wished to apply for housing benefit and when the Council told Miss X she needed to apply for universal credit, she did so immediately. In these circumstances, I am persuaded that Miss X would have applied for universal credit earlier if the Council had advised her to, and is likely to have received it. Because of the Council’s error, on the balance of probabilities, Miss X has missed out on housing payments she should have received.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the final decision the Council has agreed to pay Miss X an amount equivalent to the housing payments she missed out on between May and September 2021.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There was fault leading to injustice which the Council has agreed to remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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