Housing Benefit is a national welfare benefit administered by local Councils on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The purpose of the scheme is to help people who have alow income and very little capital pay their rent. Housing Benefit, when added to a claimant’s other income, will normally ensure that your tenant has sufficient income to pay their rent.
When To Claim
Your tenants must apply for benefit as soon as they believe that help is needed. New tenants should claim within the first benefit week of their move in your property or if they move in over a weekend on the Friday before their move. Existing Tenants should claim as soon as they need help e.g. if they have a change in their income such as a job loss, inability to work through sickness or retirement. Tenants in houses of multi-occupation must complete a new claim form if they move from one room to another. It would be helpful if the room number could be clearly marked on the form.
How To Claim
The tenant or their partner must complete a Benefit Application Form (1.1MB) (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) and return it to Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Benefit Section, Housing Department, Town Hall, Point Street, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, HS1 2XF.
Documentation asked for in the application should be included, such as:
- Proof of Income
- Tenancy agreement or landlord/landlady’s letter
- Any services included in the rent (a breakdown of the amount of these would be helpful)
- And proof of any capital holdings of £3,000 or more
The tenant should not delay in returning the form. If any of the supporting documentation is not available, this can always be submitted later. It is sometimes necessary that we write to your tenant for further information in support of their claim. This may cause a delay in the initial processing of that claim. It may be helpful for you to keep in touch with your tenant if you think a claim has been made. We cannot give you any information about your tenants claim unless the tenant has given written approval for this.
When Does Entitlement Start?
Benefit normally starts the Monday after the application is received. The exception is this is when the application form is received on the office in the week that the rental liability actually begins. In this case benefit can be paid from the Monday of that week that your tenant moved into the property, or in the case of a monthly tenancy on the start date of the tenancy.
When Does Entitlement End?
When a claimant starts to receive benefit, he/she is given this for a specified period, known as the benefit period. Six weeks before the end of this benefit period a claimant is invited to re-apply for benefit. This is known as a Renewal or Review Claim. Where a claimant fails to complete either a renewal form or a reminder form, then benefit entitlement will cease. The length of a benefit period can vary from one claimant to another, but within Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar the majority of claimants who are self-employed or in seasoned work will have a benefit period of 26 weeks.
Other Changes That May Stop Benefit
Benefit may stop before the end of the benefit period in a number of circumstances e.g.
- when Income Support stops
- where income increases to a point where there is no entitlement to benefit
- when the claimant vacates the property
- where a non-dependent(s) movies into the property and the deduction(s) made result in a loss of benefit
- where capital is received which is £16,000 or more
This list is not exhaustive but demonstrates some common areas in the ending of benefit entitlement.
What Is Eligible Rent?
Eligible rent is the amount of rent that Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Benefit Section will base its benefit calculation on after deductions have been made for any ineligible services included in the rent and any unreasonable rent deduction made.
Some services not included in eligible rent are:
- hot water
- counselling or personal care that is not related to the provision of accommodation
Which are not paid directly by the tenants themselves.
Counselling or personal care that is not related to the provision of accommodation.
There may also be further deductions if the tenant has a non-dependent living in the household.
How Is Benefit Calculated?
People on Income Support will receive 100% of their eligible rent, less any non-dependent deduction.
People not on Income Support will receive an allowance based on their income; tariff income from capital; age; number and ages of children in their family group disability they may have less any non-dependent deduction.
How The Benefit Will Be Paid
Benefit is paid one week in advance for tenancy prior to 7 October 1996, one week in arrears if direct to tenant and four weeks in arrears if paid direct to Landlord for tenancies from 7 October 1996.
The Rent Officer
The Rent Officer Service is an independent body and is not a Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar Council Department. Rent officers are responsible for calculating the Local Housing Allowance rates for different sizes of properties in each area. Once the Rent Service has determined the LHA rates for an area, an individual customer’s benefit will depend on their age and the size of their household. For example a person aged under 25 will receive the shared room rate whilst a couple with one child will receive the two-room rate.
Personal information the Council has on a claimant is protected by legislation.
Where payment is made direct to a landlord, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Benefit Section may give the landlord the following information only:
- the amount of weekly benefit
- payment periods
- information relating to actual payment
Where payment is not made direct to the landlord, the tenants written authority must be given to Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Benefit Section before any information can be disclosed.
We may ask you for details periodically of your tenants accommodation and details as to the number of tenants/claimants you currently have at a given address. It is good practice for landlords to keep up to date records of details such as tenants arrivals and departures, rents charged and received, room numbers..
What is an overpayment of Housing Benefit?
When a claimant has been paid any Housing Benefit to which s/he was not entitled then an overpayment will have occurred. Most overpayments are recoverable.
Benefit paid direct to a landlord
Where Benefit is paid direct to a landlord, any recoverable overpayment that might arise can be recovered from that landlord. It must be noted that an overpayment can be recovered from a landlord even when the landlord was unaware of the change in the tenants circumstances that gave rise to the overpayment. When the benefit claim is reassessed from the date of receipt of the new income, the resulting overpayment is recoverable, and if benefit is paid direct to the landlord the overpayment can be recovered from the landlord. It is prudent for a landlord to advise us of any change in their tenants circumstances immediately if the change is known to them, which will help keep any over payment to a minimum.
Where a tenant moves out having damaged the property or owing rent on that property, a landlord cannot continue to receive benefit in order to compensate for damages. Benefit should cease immediately if a tenant moves from the property or has a change in circumstances that stops entitlement.
What If A Tenant Has Been Overpaid At Their Previous Address?
When a landlord is receiving benefit direct and an overpayment occurs, we will send a notice informing a landlord of:
- the amount of the overpayment
- the period which it relates and
- whether the overpayment will be recovered
Are All Overpayments Recoverable?
The majority of overpayments are recoverable and can be recovered from the person to whom the benefit was paid. Recovery of an overpayment can therefore be sought from a landlord who was unaware of any change in their tenants circumstances.
It must be noted that Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar (Benefit Section) do not have a contractual obligation to pay rent. The liability for rent payments lies with the tenant.
Overpayments are caused by official error may not be recovered. However, the rules are complex and each case is looked at individually.
A Landlords Right to Appeal.
- A Landlord can only dispute one decision regarding an overpayment and that is whether the overpayment is recoverable from the Landlord.
- A person affected can request a written statement of the reason from the local authority at any time setting out how they made the decision. The local authority should supply this statement within 14 days or as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter.
How Can A Landlord Repay The Money?
A landlord will be sent an invoice for the amount of the overpayment, with instructions on how and where to pay. If a landlord cannot afford to repay the full amount of the overpayment s/he must contact Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Finance Department as soon as s/he receives the overpayment invoice, where arrangements may be made to allow for repayment by instalments.