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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Housing benefit backdate clears tenant arrears

Stephen’s client, Esther, is a Housing Executive tenant who had previously fallen into rent arrears.  Esther said she’d been too embarrassed to talk to someone when she first fell into arrears and hadn’t gone to court when the Housing Executive had applied for a possession order.  In her absence, the judge granted a Possession Order with a stay.  This meant that Esther could continue to live in her home as long as she kept to the terms of the order, which were made by the judge in court.  This arrangement required that Esther pay a certain amount towards her arrears on top of her rent payment every week.  If Esther didn’t keep to this agreement, the Housing Executive would be able to go back to court to have the order enforced and have Esther evicted from the property.

Enforcement action stopped when client engaged with advice services

Esther first came to us when she received a Notice of Intention to Enforce a Non-Money Judgement from the Enforcement of Judgments Office.  Esther said she’d gotten confused about her payment agreement and how much she was supposed to pay as her housing benefit claim kept changing.  As a result, she’d missed several payments and the Housing Executive had decided to apply to have the possession order enforced.

Stephen, Esther’s Housing Rights adviser, had a detailed look at Esther’s finances and helped her put a repayment arrangement back in place. The Housing Executive was happy to give Esther time to work with Stephen and put a stop to the enforcement action once Esther started making payments again. 

Esther told Stephen that she was really confused about how the arrears had accrued on her rent account in the first place. Stephen suggested that she ask for her housing benefit files so he could find out whether the Housing Executive had made any errors in assessing the client’s entitlement to housing benefit.

Housing benefit system error caused arrears

Once Stephen had reviewed Esther’s files, he could see that there was a period of time when she’d been receiving statutory sick pay whilst recovering from an operation.   During this period Esther’s housing benefit had been reassessed and the Housing Executive had determined that she was no longer entitled to receive any housing benefit.  This was when the arrears had started to build up.  However, Stephen noticed that some important information had been omitted when working out Esther’s entitlement. Esther has a six-year-old daughter and pays a childminder to look after her.   She receives the childcare element of Tax Credits for help with childcare costs, but this element of Tax Credits had not been disregarded by the Housing Executive when working out her entitlement to housing benefit, as it should have been.

Stephen notified the Housing Executive of his concern that the Childcare Element of Tax Credits had been erroneously included as part of Esther’s income when assessing her housing benefit while she was unable to work. The Housing Executive re-assessed Esther’s account following Stephen’s letter and discovered that the housing benefit system did not award the relevant disregard for childcare costs.  As a result, Esther was awarded a backdated payment of housing benefit to the sum of approximately £1,300.

The backdated payment cleared the arrears on Esther’s account.  She was delighted with the help Stephen had given her, particularly since she could well have ended up homeless if she hadn’t contacted Housing Rights. 

Tagged In

Benefits, Social Tenancies, Practical tips, Affordability, Adviser