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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Challenging bedroom tax and supplementary payment decisions

Mitigation payments have really helped the people of Northern Ireland to deal with the financial stresses created by welfare reforms like the bedroom tax. These mitigations are shortly due to end, something that will cause pain and hardship for many. However, mitigation payments can and have been lost. Victoria, one of our advisers recently assisted a client facing eviction due to the loss of his mitigation payment. This case demonstrates the importance of underlying benefit decisions, even if there is no immediate financial loss.

Housing association tenant hit by bedroom tax

Gordon had lived in his housing association tenancy for several years. Gordon has a disability which limits his ability to work and is in receipt of disability benefits and Housing Benefit. When the social sector size criteria, or Bedroom Tax was introduced, Gordon’s Housing Benefit was cut as he was living by himself in a two-bedroom property. However, in accordance with mitigations secured for Northern Ireland Gordon began receiving extra money, through a welfare supplementary payment, to offset this reduction in his benefit.

Tenant lost supplementary payment after mutual exchange

In late 2017, Gordon applied for a transfer as his condition had degenerated and he was struggling to cope in his current home. The area Gordon lives in is in very high demand, with no new build activity, and transfer applicants often need a very high level of points in order to get an allocation. On the advice of both his housing association and the Housing Executive, Gordon instead focused his energies on finding a suitable exchange partner. He eventually found a swap, but was unaware of the impact that exchanging tenancies would have on his welfare supplementary payment.

The regulations which govern the award of bedroom tax mitigation payments state that such payments will stop if a person moves to another social tenancy and continues to over-occupy the property by the same or a greater number of bedrooms. The only failsafe for people who wish to move is if they are awarded a type of priority transfer status, referred to as “management transfer”. This does not, however, offer any protection to those tenants who organise their own exchanges. As Gordon moved from a third-floor two-bedroom property to a ground-floor two-bedroom property he fell afoul of this stipulation and his mitigation payments stopped.

Loss of mitigation payment leads to possession order and threatened eviction

Gordon tried to make up the missing Housing Benefit, but ultimately his rent account fell into arrears. These arrears eventually increased to a level which enabled the housing association to secure a possession order. At this stage and worried that he’d end up homeless without assistance, Gordon contacted Housing Rights for advice.

Adviser secures significant Housing Benefit backdate to clear arrears

Gordon spoke to Victoria on our helpline and explained that he was at risk of being evicted. In the course of her initial discussions with Gordon, Victoria realised that Gordon was actually entitled to an additional bedroom and should never have been subject to the bedroom tax. For several years, Gordon’s two brothers had been taking it in turns to stay with him overnight in order to help him dress, undress and attend to his personal care. The Housing Benefit (and Universal Credit) regulations allow a bedroom for a non-resident carer, where the applicant meets certain eligibility criteria.

Victoria worked with Gordon to secure the necessary evidence to show his entitlement to full Housing Benefit for the property. It took a few months to do this and in the meantime Gordon’s landlord was proceeding with enforcement action to recover possession of the property as Gordon had failed to pay the full amount of the shortfall each week and the arrears were still increasing.

Initially, the Housing Executive only backdated Gordon’s Housing Benefit for a period of four weeks, as they believed that any entitlement before this date would have been covered by a mitigating payment. Once Victoria explained that Gordon had, in fact, lost his entitlement to the supplementary payment when he exchanged properties back in 2017, the Housing Executive agreed to backdate the additional allowance to the date that his new tenancy commenced.

By advocating on Gordon’s behalf with both his landlord and the Housing Benefit team at the Housing Executive, Victoria managed to secure a backdated payment of Housing Benefit, sufficient to discharge the full amount owed on Gordon’s rent account and to stop any attempts to evict him. However, without Victoria’s help, it’s likely that this underlying entitlement to full Housing Benefit would never have been uncovered and Gordon could have faced eviction from his property and a period of homelessness.

Getting help with housing costs

Contact Housing Rights for advice if you’re struggling to pay your rent or facing any other housing difficulty. We can talk to you about Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, your housing rights and your housing options. Call 028 9024 5640 between 09:30 and 16:30 Monday to Friday.

Tagged In

Benefits, Welfare Reform, Adviser

This article was written on 5 June 2019. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.