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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Non-dependent or undeclared partner?

Aine, a Housing Executive tenant, contacted Housing Rights Service when she received a letter which stated that she was being pursued for a housing benefit overpayment of £19,000.

The letter said that the Housing Executive believed, based on evidence it had received from the Social Security Agency, that Aine was living with a partner but had not declared this.  

Background to the case

Aine told her Housing Rights adviser, Stephen, that her friend Marcus had stayed with her on occasion.  Marcus suffered from pretty serious mental health issues and depended on Aine for support.  When Marcus was feeling particularly low, Aine would have him to stay in her home so she could keep an eye on him and make sure he was all right.  By the time she received the overpayment letter, Marcus had found his own accommodation. 

Aine brought Stephen in the information that the Social Security Agency had provided to the Housing Executive.  She had been interviewed in relation to an overpayment of income support.  During this interview, she had told the SSA investigators that Marcus was living with her, but had clearly stated that the relationship was not romantic or sexual and never had been. 

People who receive housing benefit are subject to deductions for any non-dependent adults who live with them.  The level of deduction made will depend on the income of the person living with the claimant.  However, a couple in a relationship will have their eligibility for housing benefit assessed based on their combined household income.  In this case, we felt that Aine should have been subject to a non-dependent deduction for Marcus.  Had this happened, she would still have had to pay back some housing benefit, but it would have been significantly less than the £19,000 that was now being demanded from her.

Stephen challenged the Housing Executive’s decision, but the decision maker upheld the original finding.  We felt that Aine had grounds to have her case heard by an Appeal Tribunal.  But, while waiting for an appeal date, Stephen wrote to the Appeals Team at the Housing Executive’s Policy Unit and asked that they reconsider the decision one last time.

Building the case

In his letter to the Housing Executive Stephen quoted guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions which states

The fact that two people who are not married to each other, are members of the same household does not necessarily mean that they are living together as a married couple.” Department of Work & Pensions, Decision Makers' Guide, Volume 3, Chapter 11

Stephen also referenced a number of important tribunal decisions and a crucial High Court judgment, (Crake and Butterworth v The Supplementary Benefit Commission [1982] 1 All ER 498) which supported his argument that the Housing Executive could not assume that Aine and Marcus were a couple, particularly in light of the evidence provided. Stephen argued that the decision maker had not given due consideration to  the tests outlined in the Crake judgment, namely

  • whether the partners were members of the same household
  • the stability of their relationship
  • financial support arrangements
  • presence of a sexual relationship
  • children, and
  • public acknowledgment of the relationship. 

Successful outcome

The Appeals Team referred the case back to the relevant Housing Benefit Office.  In his letter, Stephen asked that the Housing Executive consider Marcus as a non-dependent, rather than an undeclared partner, and amend Aine’s claim accordingly.  The Housing Executive accepted this argument and reduced Aine’s overpayment by approximately £8,000.  Our debt advisers have helped Aine to set up a repayment arrangement to ensure that she clears the remaining overpayment in regular, affordable instalments.

Tagged In

Benefits, Practical tips, Affordability, Adviser

This article was written on 26 March 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.