Early Warning System e-bulletin - December 2021

Date: 
21 December 2021
Issue: 
December 2021
Housing costs

The Early Warning System collects evidence from advisers about how changes to the benefits system are affecting their clients. We use this data for campaigns, in discussions with Government, and to produce advice resources.

This month, we have heard a lot about housing costs:

​Meanwhile, the Government has announced it is freezing Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates at 2020/21 levels for another year.

Read what advisers are saying and what CPAG is doing below.

Call for evidence in December: The £20 cut to universal credit has been in effect for two months now. We need to hear about the impact this is having on your clients. Tell us by completing an online form or emailing the Early Warning System. The more we know, the more we can do.
 

Rent liability issues

Where a claimant isn't named on the tenancy agreement for the place where they live, or where the claimant is a joint tenant but the other tenant no longer lives with them, they might struggle to get help with housing costs. The same issues can arise both with housing benefit (HB) and with the housing costs element of universal credit (UC).

Joint tenants: "untidy tenancies"

Where a claimant is a joint tenant and the other tenant no longer lives in the property, the claimant is described as having an "untidy tenancy".

S/he should usually be treated as liable for all of the rent, on the principle of joint and several liability. For UC, relevant rules are set out in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 and paragraph 24(5) of Schedule 4 to the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. For HB, they're in regulations 8(1)(c)(i) and 12(5) of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006. Of course, there might be more than two joint tenants, making things even less 'tidy'.

A claimant might need to provide a certain amount of evidence about their circumstances, but in basic terms, an untidy tenancy should not stop most them from getting help with 100 per cent of their rent, and they should not need to negotiate a new tenancy agreement in order to do so.

We published a report in September about changes to DWP practices on untidy tenancies. We were hopeful that more claimants would now get the right decision. Unfortunately, in the last couple of months, we have been told about several cases in which the rules still aren't being correctly applied.

  • One new UC claimant who had been separated for 10 years was only being paid half of her housing costs, because her ex was still named on the tenancy. On querying this, she was simply told to get a new tenancy agreement drawn up.
  • A widowed UC claimant lost half of her housing costs element after her husband's death. The issue was eventually resolved when she got a new tenancy agreement, but a year later she is still without any backdating for the 'lost' months.
  • Another UC claimant who has finally managed to get her UC corrected to cover 100 per cent of her rent has found that the correction has not been backdated, despite her having raised the issue with DWP numerous times over four years.
  • And one single claimant has been paid partial HB for the last 13 years due to an untidy tenancy, and has only now been advised to challenge this.

People who are not named tenants

When a resident is not named at all in the tenancy agreement for the place where they live, they might nonetheless be able to get help with their housing costs. Briefly, this will be possible when the named tenant is not paying the rent and it is reasonable to treat the other resident as being liable to pay it. For UC the relevant rules are once again in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, and for HB, they're in regulation 8 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006.

Unfortunately, we often hear about decisions which overlook what is reasonable in the circumstances. This month, we heard about one claimant facing difficulties because the tenancy agreement for his home was in his late mother's sole name. Another case involved a newly-single parent with three children, about to make a new claim for UC, but fearful that she would not get the housing costs element because the tenancy on her home was in her ex-partner's name.

CPAG has produced a number of tools and resources on the topic of rent liability. These include mandatory reconsideration request templates and judicial review pre-action letter templates: several are specifically about untidy tenancies and one is about liability for rent when not a named tenant. CPAG's Judicial Review Project is on hand to offer guidance about using the templates. You can also refer to CPAG's Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook, Chapters 6 and 10, for more information.

And if your client is struggling to get help with housing costs and you're not sure what their rights are, please contact CPAG's advice services.
 

Confusion over 'specified accommodation'

This autumn, we have heard about a few claimants who are being sent back and forth by DWP and their local authority after trying to claim help with housing costs. These are individuals whose housing looks like, but might not be, 'specified accommodation'. Recent examples have included retirement homes, almshouses, and Shared Lives schemes.

'Specified accommodation' is defined in paragraph 3A of schedule 1 to the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. There are different kinds, but one common type is housing provided by a council, housing association or charity where the resident receives care or support.

Where somebody's housing fits the definition of specified accommodation, they must claim HB rather than receiving help with housing costs through UC (under paragraph 3(h) of schedule 1). Unfortunately we have seen a clear pattern of cases in which DWP and the local authority cannot agree whether somebody's accommodation is 'specified'. These residents are being left for months without any help with housing costs, falling into rent arrears and often at risk of eviction.

One case we heard about in October concerned a resident in a supported accommodation complex who refused care from staff, due to the nature of her health condition. The local authority had previously been paying housing benefit, but stopped the award on the basis that the resident was not actually receiving care, support or supervision (as required by paragraph 3A(3)). She was told that she should now claim the housing costs element of UC, but that claim was also refused. Rent arrears have built up while the resident's adviser tries to challenge both decisions.

In another case, an adviser reported concerns when her client was turned down for HB and told to claim UC after moving into a housing complex for older people. The client was receiving employment and support allowance (ESA) and the adviser didn't want to see her pushed into claiming UC, especially as it appeared that the local authority had made a mistake and the housing should have been classed as specified. However, the adviser did not want to delay a UC claim if this was going to be necessary to meet the resident's housing costs, particularly because of the limited back-dating available on UC.

Advisers can only do so much to pre-empt these issues. Where one of your clients has lost out after being giving the wrong information by either DWP or the local authority, they might have grounds for a compensation claim. If the misinformation came from DWP, they can make a complaint and ask for compensation in the complaint request. If there are significant delays in deciding a mandatory reconsideration request or appeal, you might also want to consider sending a judicial review pre-action letter. CPAG has produced a template pre-action letter (JR115) addressing one of these kinds of cases, and CPAG's Judicial Review Project is on hand to offer guidance about adapting and using the template.

We would be interested to hear from any advisers who are seeing these issues. And if you think the wrong decision has been made in one of your cases, please contact CPAG's advice services.


Do you have something to tell us?

Hearing about your cases has a profound impact on our work. If you have a case which shows how changes in social security affect you or your clients, please let us know.

Some of the topics we are looking out for include:

  1. The £20 cut – We know it will be deeply felt by all UC claimants. To make persuasive arguments to Government, we need specific examples of the effects it is having.
  2. Childcare costs – Do you have a client who has struggled to get help with childcare costs through UC or tax credits?
  3. Young students with disabilities and ill health – Changes to the law from 15th December now make it even harder for young people in education to claim UC. Do you have clients who are affected?

Submit a case online or email the Early Warning System​ to tell us what you're seeing and how we can help.


Do you need CPAG's advice?

Advice by telephone

020 7812 5231 Monday-Friday 10am-12 and 2pm-4pm

Advice by email

[email protected]

UC London Advice

020 7812 5221 Wednesday 10am-12 and 2pm-4pm

[email protected]

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