Tenants are still losing out by making their claims late or not giving us the information we need to process their claims. Invariably, this means higher arrears for the landlords, struggling tenants and even people losing their homes. This is something I talk about a lot but I’m not going to apologise for being boring; it’s too important.
If you want to claim Housing Benefit, do it straight away. We will normally only pay you from when you make your claim. In exceptional circumstances, (where ‘good cause is shown’ in the official phrase), it can sometimes be backdated but that’s rare. And since April, when the government changed the rules, the maximum length of time it can be backdated for has been reduced from six months to one month. So don’t delay.
Many backdating requests used to be about someone telling us that they couldn’t make an application for a practical reason. They couldn’t physically come in to collect or complete a form or they sent us a form but it was lost in transit.
But our moving to an online-only application form has changed things. The process is quicker and simpler and more convenient.
If you want, you can fill the form in at two in the morning. You can do it from anywhere you like, on a tablet or a smart-phone. Postal delays or having to make special trips to get your hands on a paper form are no longer a factor. And once you’ve made your claim – its simple to prove it. If you provide a valid email address, you automatically get an email receipt. This should put an end to many of the disputes we used to see about whether or not a claim had actually been sent in.
Of course, we know that some of our customers are still not online. I certainly wouldn’t want to minimise or make light of the difficulties that a minority of people might face dealing with an online world but there are fall-back arrangements in place and help is available.
There are other issues that could make it difficult for someone to apply when they need to: Poor health, bereavement or some sort of serious disruption to a person’s normal daily living. We can consider a backdating request made on any grounds, but to succeed, it has got to be something which genuinely prevented them from making a claim at the right time.
The next big problem often occurs once someone has actually made their application. Claims often fail simply because the claimant doesn’t provide information we have asked for within the time limit set. Sometimes there is a genuine problem or simple confusion but quite often we are not given any reason. If we don’t get the information, we almost always have to refuse the claim. This means the applicant has to apply again and their benefit only starts from the date of the new claim. Its essential that people give us everything we ask for, when we ask for it and that if there is a problem, they let us know straight away.
There is no advantage to us as a council in stopping people get the help they should be entitled to or seeing people struggling with rent arrears. But we do have to work within legislation and regulations that are set for us.
So, a very simple message that I’ve already put on previous blog posts – If someone thinks they need our help, claim straight away, give us the information we need when we ask for it and if there’s a problem, don’t leave it – talk to us.