Payment of Housing benefit direct

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  • #38923
    Paul Owen
    Participant

    I recently informed the local housing benefit department that my tenant was in arrears with rent, yet they still made payment direct.
    How much notice is required for the Housing Benefit to suspend direct payments?

    The dates for information.

    03.06.11 We phoned to suggest the claimant as in arrears.
    03.06.11 We informed you of 8 weeks rent arrears by email.
    06.06.11 We confirmed by telephone you had the email.
    08.06.11 The claim was suspended.
    13.06.11 The claimant received £320.90.(his 4 weekly allowance)

    HB is now being paid direct, with the tenant now being in arrears and moved on. Is there a way to recover the arrears?

    Any advice appreciated, thanks in advance 🙁 🙁

    #110228
    Kevin D
    Participant

    There is no legislative time frame in which a LA has to act on a change of payee. In the context of overpayments, Upper Tribunal Judges (& former Commissioners) have largely accepted that LAs are allowed a reasonable time frame before overpayments are regarded as having been made in error.

    Based on the time frame given, the payment of 13/6 is “only” 10 days after the LA was made aware the arrears were 8 wks in arrears. In my view, it would be very difficult to successfully argue the LA was at “fault”; the LA would almost certainly argue that such a time frame was reasonable and for such an argument to be supported by the Local Government Ombudsman or a Court. Of course, in a typical business environment, a delay of 10 days before acting on a customer contact would often be regarded as being an eternity. However, the benefits sections of LAs are not businesses and I really don’t think a complaint would be successful in any way. It’s worth noting that for brand new claims, the legislation expressly gives LAs upto 14 days (at least) to make decisions on claims. Similarly, there is a 14 day window for notifying claimants / LLs of decisions. With that in mind, I think any LA would easily be able to argue anything actioned within 14 days was definitely reasonable. Even if it had been as much as one month, the LA may well have still been able to argue it was a reasonable time frame.

    In short, based on the information given so far, the only way in which you will be able to recover the arrears of rent is directly from your tenant. You *could* ask the LA for the tenant’s current address and it wouldn’t breach the Data Protection Act if the LA gave you that info. s.35(2) of the DPA allows data to be given where it is required in connection with the exercise of legal rights, BUT, it the provision doesn’t place the LA under any obligation to release the info.

    #110432
    peterdelamothe
    Keymaster

    The only point I would add is that I suspect the LA forgot to stop the payment after they suspended the claim. An assessment officer would have suspended the claim; why did a payments officer not stop the payment or request the bank to return if paid by bacs?

    I would ask for a full explanation myself.

    #112214
    Paul Owen
    Participant

    Thank you David and Peter.

    I had asked the local authority to provide me with the address for my tenant, to which he had moved.

    The reply as follows
    As we are administering benefits we are bound by Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 which states it is a criminal offence to disclose such information.

    Am i being fobbed off here? 🙁

    #112230
    Andy Thurman
    Keymaster

    [quote=peterdelamothe]The only point I would add is that I suspect the LA forgot to stop the payment after they suspended the claim. An assessment officer would have suspended the claim; why did a payments officer not stop the payment or request the bank to return if paid by bacs?

    I would ask for a full explanation myself.[/quote]

    Peter has a point here although I would frame it differently. I don’t realistically think a payments officer (if indeed one is so employed by the LA) can check every regular payment but I do wonder if the suspension was correctly administered.

    The “payment run” processes for Private Tenant claimants is usually run on a Thursday (allowing payments to reach bank accounts on the following Monday) and should not issue payments for suspended claims. If the dates you have quoted are definitely correct, the suspension of 8.6 (a Weds) would normally, therefore, have been in time to prevent the payment of 13.6 being made. There are 2 possible options to explain:
    1. The LA in question performs the payment run processes early on a Wednesday – the suspension placed later in that day is then too late to prevent the issuing of it.
    2. The suspension was not actioned properly for some reason. If this 2nd explanation, there may be some grounds for pursuing the LA on their failure to act properly.

    #112281
    David Morrison
    Participant

    Paul,

    What did your letter say (i.e. the one you wrote to ask for the tenants new address?)

    Cheers
    David

    #112284
    Paul Owen
    Participant

    Hi David
    We ask that you provide the forwarding address to where Mr **** has moved:

    s.35(2) of the DPA allows data to be given where it is required in connection with the exercise of legal rights.

    #112285
    Kevin D
    Participant

    I agree with Paul but with the qualification that s.35(2) doesn’t provide any enforcement power; it just means the LA won’t breach the DPA if the criteria of s.35(2) is met and the LA chooses to release the data in question.

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