We are currently looking very hard at some Housing Benefit claims that have been completed online by landlords on behalf of their tenants. The problem with these claims is – we aren’t sure the tenants were present when the forms were completed; something we should definitely have been made aware of, but weren’t!
Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with a landlord helping a tenant make their claim. Either just providing general support or actually helping the tenant fill in the form online. All fine. As long as the tenant is present when the form is completed, answers the questions properly and specifically answers the one about whether anyone has helped the tenant with the form.
But if these simple conditions aren’t met, it can be a serious problem. We know that honest mistakes are made and sometimes people might not understand all of our requirements, but to be blunt, there are potential fraud issues. As I say, we are now looking at some particular addresses and landlords to see what steps we need to take. Obviously, I’m not going to go into detail here but there are all sorts of things that can make us suspicious that procedures haven’t been followed properly or claim forms completed accurately.
Obviously, we know that the overwhelming majority of our landlords (and claimants) are honest and have no intention of doing anything wrong – but realistically, from time to time problems occur. The consequences can be serious – either formal fraud investigations with everything that entails or at the very least – we might consider deeming a landlord to be no longer be ‘fit and proper.’ This is not a criminal sanction but it can still have serious effects on a landlord’s business.
The golden rules on helping a tenant with an online form are simple.
• Only fill in any part of the application if the tenant is present with you.
• Make sure that the tenant understands all of the questions that you are answering on their behalf.
• If you are helping complete the form – TELL US. There is a very simple question on the form: ‘Are you the person making this claim, or have you answered the questions on behalf of the person making the claim?’ Make sure this question is answered correctly.
• You should not complete the application if the tenant is not physically present with you, but if you have done so for any reason – TELL US.
If you are ever not sure about what is required, please let us know.
If you stick to these points – you should be fine. I really do want to stress that there is no reason at all why landlords or housing workers can’t assist tenants to make applications. If you are aware though of any cases where you think a form has been completed incorrectly, please do let us know. It’s better for everyone if a landlord identifies the problem to us, rather than waiting for us to spot it.
This change is important but rather technical. So although its not the best thing to do if you want to write beautifully, I’m just going to bullet point the whole post to try and keep it clear. I’m also going to miss out quite a bit of detail. So please consider this post a summary only! I can’t yet find a decent link to anything which meets all these three criteria: a) is completely up-to-date b) puts everything in one place and c) is completely official so I’m not linking to anything from here. I will try and put some links up when I find them. So bearing in mind that this is just a summary – here goes
- First announced 2015, the Government expects it will ‘encourage parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child’. (From DWP Impact Assessment July 2015)
- From 6th April 2017 – you can no longer normally claim Child Tax Credits (CTC) for any third or subsequent child in a household born on or after the 6th April 2017.
- These children will also be treated differently in the calculation of Housing Benefit (HB) meaning some HB claimants will receive a lower level of benefit.
- However the changes to HB will not affect how we work out the size of the accommodation allowed for a household. So although some claimants will lose part of their HB entitlement, you will still be allowed the same number of rooms in your home as you were under the previous rules.
- Any household with an affected child will not be able to make a new claim for Universal Credit (UC). They will instead have to claim the older ‘legacy’ benefits that existed before the introduction of UC.
- There is a list of children who will be exempted – including children covered by certain types of care arrangements – some children from multiple births – children conceived as the result of a non-consensual sexual act, including rape – children adopted from local authority care – children who are the child of someone under 16 that the claimant is responsible for.
- All decisions on whether a child should be exempt for the new rules will be made as a part of the calculation for CTC.
- This means that Housing Benefit departments will not have to make their own decisions about whether to include these children fully in claims. Instead, they will simply follow the decision made in the CTC assessment. Any claimant dispute about whether a child should be included or not should be made to HMRC who award CTC.
- If all your children were born before the cut-off date of 6th April 2017 and you have no further children, you simply won’t be affected.
Benefits in general is a very complex subject. For anyone who wants an idea of what benefits they can claim or how much they might be entitled to across the whole range of state benefits there are some very good online calculation tools. You can find links to these on gov.uk.
You can also use the Housing Benefit/Council Tax reduction calculator which is set into Sandwell’s own online benefit form. (You can use our calculator without having to complete the form, even though the first few pages for both are the same).
I’m going to break (again) the first rule of a good blog; don’t let yourself get boring, sounding like a stuck record on a favourite subject.
This is a subject that needs continual repeating. People lose benefit unnecessarily because they are not getting some very simple things right. I won’t go into reasons or guess why this is, but just re-state some very simple, important points. Anyone claiming benefit needs to remember
- If you want to claim benefit – do it IMMEDIATELY, or you could lose benefit.
- Claim via our online form. It’s quick and straightforward – but make sure you complete and submit the form properly.
- All new claims receive an automatic email receipt – this is your proof that a claim has been made.
- When you complete the application online – it will work out from your answers, what if any supporting information we need. You MUST provide this on time or you claim will be refused.
- If we make a separate request for information at a later date – you must reply within the set time limit.
- If something changes – tell us straight away.
- If you need help or advice, don’t leave it. Speak to us as quickly as you can.
So if you’re a landlord or you work giving advice to people claiming benefits – please help us get the message across and remind your tenants or clients.