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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

ADVISER: Introductory tenancy reviews and notional capital

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Laura, an adviser at Housing Rights, recently helped a vulnerable client to stay in her home. The client, Mary, was an introductory tenant facing possession due to rent arrears. Laura explains how she helped Mary to stay in her tenancy and to secure a Housing Benefit backdate to offset the arrears.

Mary lives with severe depression and anxiety. She also suffers from complications to her physical health, including brittle bone disease and rheumatoid arthritis. During a particularly traumatic time in her life, Mary experienced a mental breakdown which culminated in an attempt at suicide.

Mary had been living in the family home with her uncle, whom she had been caring for. She applied for social housing after her uncle died, as she could no longer manage the stairs on her own and her mental health was deteriorating. Eventually, she was allocated a ground floor bungalow by the Housing Executive and sold the family home.

Proceeds from sale of property treated as capital

Mary received £40,000 from the sale of the property, £10,000 of which she kept to furnish her new home. The remaining £30,000 was put in a separate bank account and Mary instructed her son to divide this equally between him and his two siblings. Later, it became clear that that Mary’s son had sadly gambled the £30,000 without her consent and had not abided by her wishes to share the money equally.

A person’s entitlement to Housing Benefit and many other benefits is reduced if they have savings or assets valued at over £6,000 and stops altogether if the value exceeds £16,000. As Mary had kept £10,000 from the sale of the home, she expected to see some reduction in her entitlement, but her claims for social security assistance were rejected.

Under capital rules, the Housing Executive and other benefit decision makers can treat someone as still being in possession of capital that they have given away, if the decision maker believes that the person wilfully disposed of the capital in order to claim benefits. In Mary’s case, decision makers involved with both her Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit claims did not believe that the capital had been spent by her son, and instead insisted that she had purposely spent the capital to be eligible for benefits

The decision not to pay Housing Benefit put Mary’s tenancy in jeopardy, as no Housing Benefit had been paid since the inception of her introductory tenancy and arrears had built up as a result. Mary’s lack of entitlement to Employment Support Allowance also meant that she had to subsist on her Disability Living Allowance only. She had been unable to afford daily essentials and as a result was using foodbanks frequently. Mary could not afford to heat or power her home, and had become reliant on family and friends. Mary’s ongoing mental and physical health issues were also exacerbated as a result of her dire financial situation.

Investigations and casework lead to positive outcome for client

When I first spoke to Mary, she handed me a notice seeking possession. She was very confused about what was happening and about the decisions which had been made about her benefits claims. I explained her position as an introductory tenant and the steps that the Housing Executive would have to take in order to end her tenancy, including her right to a review of the decision to issue a notice seeking possession.

After talking to Mary for a while and speaking to her housing officer, I realised that Mary had already taken part in a panel meeting to discuss the notice seeking possession with the Housing Executive. I also spoke to the Housing Executive’s Housing Benefit unit to ask that the decision not to award any benefit was reviewed.

I contacted the Housing Executive and asked them to consider holding a second review meeting, explaining that Mary had not understood the process and was not made aware that she could have representation at the meeting; and that this had left her at a significant disadvantage.

At the second introductory tenancy review meeting, I represented Mary and explained that the decision not to award Housing Benefit was currently under review and made the point that it was unreasonable to issue a possession order while this matter was still outstanding and in light of the lack of support given to Mary when dealing with her rent arrears. The Housing Executive agreed to suspend further action until I had an opportunity to challenge the Housing Benefit decision.

Once the threat of possession was lifted, I was able to help Mary gather up the correct evidence needed to overturn the decisions on her ESA and Housing Benefit claims. As a result of this work Mary’s ESA and HB were backdated to the date of application. The Housing Executive received a backdated payment of over £2000.00 and all proceedings against Mary’s tenancy were halted.

Mary now feels that a massive weight has been lifted off her shoulders, and has told me that trying to resolve this would have been impossible without Housing Rights support. She says that her mental health issues have eased slightly now that she no longer has to worry about being made homeless and can just settle in to enjoying her new home.

Tagged In

Benefits, Practical tips, Adviser

Author

Etain Ní Fhearghail