Desperately seeking best practice on Non Commercial / contrived

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    I have just returned from a FtT where the Judge upheld the appeal against our decision to refuse HB on the grounds of non commerciality.

    Now in all honesty, I think that this was the right decision on the basis of information only given to me at the hearing.

    This is the 3rd case that I have taken to FtT in 12 months and the appeal has been upheld in 2 of the 3 cases which shows me that we are making the wrong decisions which concerns me. As all these cases have taken nearly 14 months to be heard and I am concerned about the effect that these decisions are having on the claimants who may lose their accommodation as a result of what could be the wrong decision.

    I was wondering if anyone out there has any guidance or best practice guides for cases like this – do you have a list of questions to ask, interview the claimant / landlord, do you consider the arrears / level of rent or not? What level of information do you seek to obtain before you make such a decision? The judge criticised us today for not writing to the landlord again following her letter in support of the claim but serving notice on the tenant.

    I am really just looking to write a new procedure for my assessors which makes sure that they are making the right decisions and meaning that I don’t look like a muppet again in front of the Chair! Any help would be most appreciated.


    3 cases in 12 months, with a 33% “success” rate in a notoriously hard area to prove sounds like quite good stats to me 🙂

    One thing I would always look out for in these cases is whether or not the assessors are aware of the full spectrum of decisions that may apply in these cases. So before considering the issue of commerciality, are they also fully trained in the issue of liability? Do they know how to spot a sham tenancy?

    We have also found in the past that that a template letter asking a number of common questions helps assessors when they are obtaining further information from the customers. Of course you really have to stress the importance of treating each cases individually though.

    Another area that is quite successful, although tends to be unpopular depending on how your assessment team is set up, is calling these customers in for face to face interviews rather than trying to gather all the information via post. This often opens up new avenues depending on answers given by the customer and is usually a lot more productive than having a “paper tennis match” with the customer 🙂

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