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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Rent arrears caused by conflicting information on entitlement

Last year, our adviser Karen assisted Thomas, who had been given incorrect information about migrating to Universal Credit and was struggling to afford his rent as a result.

Change of address or break in claim?

Thomas moved out of a rental property he had shared with his former partner after their relationship ended. He originally intended to move into a new flat with his sister, but this arrangement didn’t work out, meaning Thomas had to move in with his parents for just over a week before finding an alternative rented flat.

Thomas spoke with the Housing Executive who explained that the period of time living with his parents constituted a break in his Housing Benefit claim, as he had no liability for rent in this property. This meant that he would have to claim Universal Credit for his new tenancy, something which Thomas then attempted to do.

Conflicting and incorrect information provided by NI Social Security Agency

On approaching his local Jobs and Benefits Office, Thomas was given conflicting information. Here, he was told that the Housing Executive’s information was incorrect and that his Housing Benefit and other legacy benefit claims would be unaffected by this change in address. Reassured by this information, Thomas returned home and waited for a letter from the Housing Executive confirming the new arrangements for payment of his Housing Benefit.

After a few weeks, and with no letter from NIHE, Thomas contacted the Housing Benefit team to query the delay. He was advised that he no longer had an active Housing Benefit claim, as his claim ended when he moved out of the home he shared with his former partner and moved in with his parents temporarily. NIHE advised that Thomas needed to claim Universal Credit urgently.

Thomas submitted a claim for UC online immediately, but was told that his payment would only start from his date of claim. Thomas was not entitled to a two-week run on of Housing Benefit, as he was not receiving HB immediately before moving to UC, due to the time spent in his parents’ home. This meant Thomas was getting no financial assistance for the first four weeks of rent in his new tenancy.

Assistance from Housing Rights

Thomas called our helpline for assistance with this query and his case was passed to Karen. Karen established that the principle cause for complaint was the erroneous information given to Thomas by staff at his local Jobs and Benefits Office. Had it not been for their assurances that Thomas would continue to receive Housing Benefit, Thomas would have submitted his claim for Universal Credit immediately and would have received his first payment by the time he contacted Housing Rights.

Karen submitted a letter of complaint to the Social Security Agency, requesting that the UC claim finally submitted at the beginning of September, be backdated to the 31 July, the date on which Thomas had originally approached the Jobs and Benefits Office to apply for Universal Credit. Karen’s complaint was forwarded to an independent decision maker who approved the backdating request, although a statement of reasons for this decision was not provided, despite being requested.

Get advice on your options

Universal Credit is a complex benefit. If even social security office staff make mistakes about entitlement, it is easy to see how claimants can seriously struggle navigating the change from the legacy benefits system to this system. We’d encourage anyone who is worried about the possibility of migrating to Universal Credit or who is having difficulties with their housing costs as a result of the move to Universal Credit to seek advice as quickly as possible.

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Benefits, Practical tips, Adviser