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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Capital issues and benefit decisions

At Housing Rights we feel that everyone should have access to specialist housing advice regardless of where they live in NI. Although our office is in Belfast, our services are available to people throughout Northern Ireland.  We also work with 24 agencies across NI to provide guidance, support and assistance on housing cases as part of our Community Housing Advice Partnership. Partner agencies can directly refer housing cases to us for specialist help.  One of these agencies contacted us recently to ask us to help one of their clients who was having problems with housing benefit.

Income benefits stopped because of funds in client’s account

Marie is a very vulnerable lady who suffers from a diagnosed mental health condition. She had been in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  She had gone to her local advice agency when her ESA was stopped. The Social Security Agency (SSA) had decided that Marie was not entitled to benefits as there was a significant amount of money in her bank account.  Marie told her local advice agency that this money had belonged to her brother who had put it in her account for a few days before withdrawing it.  Marie’s housing benefit had also been stopped and the Housing Executive had written to her to tell her that she had been paid housing benefit to which she was not entitled and which she must pay back.

The agency were keen to help Marie with her ESA appeal but asked if we could help Marie sort out her housing benefit problems.  Our concern was that Marie, a Housing Executive tenant, would fall into arrears without housing benefit and be at risk of eviction.  Faith, a member of our Community Housing Advice Partnership team contacted Marie to find out more about this issue.

Housing benefit problems can be managed independently of other benefit appeals

It is important to remember that housing benefit has its own set of Regulations and a separate appeal can and that actions can be taken to challenge the housing benefit decision even while a separate income benefit appeal is underway. Faith reviewed Marie’s paperwork and felt that the Housing Executive’s decision was made solely on the basis of the SSA decision regarding ESA.  It did not appear that the Housing Executive had considered the case independently.  

Section 86 of the Housing Benefit (NI) Regulation 2006, as amended, sets out that all claimants have the right to request a written statement of reasons about any housing benefit decision. This statement should contain specific information about the claimant and their circumstances. It would not be enough for the Housing Executive to simply reiterate the SSA’s findings and decision in a full statement of reasons.

Faith asked the Housing Executive to provide Marie with a  written statement of reasons. This prompted an investigation by NIHE into the fuller circumstance of the case.  The housing officer was satisfied, on further investigation, that the original decision relating to the case was incorrect and that Marie had fully explained the presence of these additional funds in her account.  

Housing benefit decision overturned, despite SSA position on entitlement to income benefits

Despite the findings of the investigation, the Housing Executive officer was hesitant to make a housing benefit decision whilst the ESA appeal was outstanding. Faith asked that the decision maker use NIHE’s statutory power to make a decision based on the facts presented to them; even if it contradicts the position taken by the SSA.

Marie contacted us a few days later to let us know that the Housing Executive had written to let her know that her benefit had been reinstated and backdated and that the overpayment had been cleared.  Marie will also receive a rent rebate of £800 in time for Christmas as she had been trying to make rent payments with her DLA while the suspension was in place.

This case is a really good example of why it is always important to ask that a decision maker provide a full statement of reasons as to why they have made a decision, especially if it appears that they may just be following the decision made by another statutory agency.

Tagged In

Benefits, Practical tips, Affordability, Adviser

This article was written on 14 December 2015. 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.