Your tenant's claims for housing benefit (complaining as a landlord)

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at landlords whose tenants are experiencing problems with their housing benefit and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

My tenant cannot pay his rent as he has problems with his housing benefit claim. Can the Ombudsman help me?

We would normally expect tenants who have problems with their housing benefit claims to make their own complaints to us. However, we accept that delays caused by the processing of tenants’ claims for housing benefit can affect you as a landlord: you suffer the loss of rent and, in some cases, these delays might cause you serious hardship.

Where you have received a decision from the council relating to your tenant’s housing benefit (such as deciding to recover an overpayment of housing benefit that was paid directly to you) you have a right of appeal to an independent social security appeal tribunal. In such cases we would normally expect you to appeal rather than make a complaint to us.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with the housing benefit claim that has caused you problems. We cannot say whether your tenant is entitled to benefit, nor can we pass on information about your tenant that the council has given us during our investigation. Some of the issues we can look at are:

  • delay in the processing of your tenant’s claim
  • paying the benefit to the wrong person (for example, direct to your tenant even though the council knew that your tenant was in arrears with rent)
  • unreasonable delay in dealing with your correspondence
  • delay in dealing with your appeal (such as against a decision to recover housing benefit from you), or
  • failure to notify you of a decision that affects you (such as to pay housing benefit direct to your tenant).

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

We can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right. This depends on what the complaint was about, but we may ask the council to:

  • determine the claim
  • pay the benefit due
  • issue or reissue the decision notice with the correct information and appeal rights
  • pay the legal costs of pursuing an ex-tenant where housing benefit was incorrectly paid to the tenant instead of you
  • make a payment to acknowledge the impact on you of the fault. The amount will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong. Where we find unreasonable delay, we usually recommend that any outstanding benefit decision is made immediately. In some cases we may recommend a modest payment to recognise your inconvenience and financial problems. If you have had to take legal action against your tenant solely because of the delay to their benefit claim we may ask for a payment to reflect your legal costs, or
  • improve procedures to ensure that the same problems do not occur again. For example, we may recommend that the council holds meetings with landlord groups to discuss issues that affect them, in order to improve the general administration of benefits.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr W complained that, despite frequent notification by him that his tenant had failed to make rent payments and was considerably in arrears, the council continued to make benefit payments to the tenant. The council accepted that, once the tenant was eight weeks in arrears, it should have paid the benefit to the landlord, and offered to pay Mr W £400 in recognition of its fault. The Ombudsman was satisfied with this outcome.
The council paid housing benefit to Mrs Z's tenant without her knowledge. But the tenant did not pay her rent, and Mrs Z had to go to court to regain possession of the property. Mrs Z complained that the council failed to notify her that her tenant was being paid housing benefit. Had it done so, Mrs Z could have told the council when her tenant was eight weeks in arrears, so ensuring that the housing benefit would be paid direct to her instead of to her tenant. However, Mrs Z had no direct administrative relationship with the council, and so it was under no obligation to tell Mrs Z that her tenant was receiving housing benefit. The council was not at fault for failing to notify Mrs Z of her tenant’s benefit entitlement.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

June 2015