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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Adviser: Capital rules and housing benefit

Cases that revolve around capital rules and housing benefit can often be complicated.  There's so much case law that it can be difficult to know where to start.  One of my clients, Janine,  was refused housing benefit because she was named on the deeds of a property which her former partner still lived in. This was a long and complex case and involved a lot of legal research. 

Janine's story

When she first came to Housing Rights Service for help Janine was 65.  She was living in a housing association property as a secure tenant but had been turned down for housing benefit.  She lives on her own and suffers from mental ill health and a number of physical ailments.  Janine receives DLA and gets industrial injuries benefits.  

In 2008 Janine had separated from her long term partner and moved out of the property that they had shared.  It was her interest in this property that led to NIHE's decision to disallow her from housing benefit.  Her former partner was still living in the property and suffered from ill health, including a serious heart condition and mental health problems.  Janine's former partner was in no position to buy her share in the property as he was suffering from financial hardship and his health problems made it unrealistic to expect him to move out. 

Once I'd taken Janine's case on I discussed her circumstances with some of my colleagues and my manager. We felt the key issue was showing that due to the cirucmstances of the case it was impossible for Janine to actually realise the capital that her share in the property equated to and so the Housing Executive should have valued her interest as nil. 

Straight to appeal

Before coming to us for advice, Janine had already requested a review of the Housing Executive's decision.  Janine had no assistance with her submission and NIHE upheld the original decision.   By the time I met with Janine we were at appeal stage.  One of the first things I did was work with Janine's current landlord to make sure that her current tenancy would be protected while we appealed the Housing Executive's decision.  Janine was lucky enough to be put in touch with a charity who helped her manage her limited income and to have a family member who could help her out a little financially but, even so, she was having an incredibly hard time making ends meet.

Valuing a share in property and realising the value in practice

I had to do a lot of research to prepare for the hearing and consulted with a lot of other advisers.  My submission on behalf of the client stated that the original housing benefit decision should be overturned on the grounds that

  • the valuation evidence obtained by NIHE was insufficient and not in line with the courts' current approach to valuation of an asset held as joint tenants
  • Janine's former partner's unwillingness to sell due to ill-health and financial hardship and his stated intention to dispute any proceedings to force a sale meant that Janine's interest in the property could not be realised and it should be given a nil value

The tribunal overturned the negative decision and found that Janine was eligible for Housing Benefit and had been from March 2008.  This hearing occured in 2103 so you can imagine the stress and financial burdens that Janine had suffered while the case rumbled on. 

Learning points

Advisers should always check the reasoning for any decision on capital tand make sure that they are satisfied that the decision can be justified.  There is a wealth of case-law available on capital which provides clear guidance on how the legislation should be applied. 

  • Commissioners' decisions on capital are available from a number of online legal resources, although you may need to pay to access these
  • Housing Law in Practice NI also contains guidance on housing benefit and capital and members of Housing Rights Service can also research cases using the wide range of housing law text books in our on-site library
  • The Law Centre provides valuable training on challenging social security decisions and representing at tribunals. 



Tagged In

Affordability, Legal, Adviser

This article was written on 30 June 2013. 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.