Case Study: Verifying residents & Housing Benefit maladministration

The word administration, can invoke a sense of the everyday. However good administration is essential in our lives and can have severe consequences when not implemented correctly. My recent case which has been adjudicated by the Ombudsman demonstrates just how checking evidence for proof of entitlement and arranging effective visits is key to making sure housing benefit claims remain in payment.

In my recent case there are three elements which the council failed to take into account:

  1. Checking previous records and information relating to a housing benefit claimants.
  2. Not accepting evidence listed in DWP standards of evidence list.
  3. Not taking into account clients medical conditions and language difficulties when arranging home visits.

Mrs K lived, with her adult son, daughter in law and her two grandchildren. She had lived there for several years without any disruption to her housing benefit. She was in receipt of low rate care Disability Living Allowance (DLA). She suffered from arthritis and back pain affecting her mobility. English is not her first language.

In January 2013 the council organized a verification visit to check whether Mrs K was resident in the property. They called twice, without success. They contacted Mrs K’s housing officer, who informed them that as a result of Mrs K’s medical conditions that a visit should be set up through the estate office. As a result a successful visit was arranged and the council were able to establish that Mrs K was still resident in the property.

On the 14 August 2015 queries were again raised regarding Mrs K. Her local authority overlooked Mrs K’s DLA and asked irrelevantly about her son’s earnings. Under the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 a council are to disregard non-dependent deductions if a person is on DLA. She was visited at home three times to explain why they required evidence of his income, but Mrs K was unable to reach the door in time.

In October 2015 her housing benefit was suspended and then cancelled in November. In December Mrs K provided a utility bill showing that she was resident in the property. She was informed by the council that she needed to make a new claim, which she did shortly after. The council then changed focus and again asked about Mrs K’s son’s income. The council did not receive this information and the case was closed again. A third claim was made in April, which was also turned down.

Three further residential visits were made. Again Mrs K was unable to get to the door. This time the council did not set up a meeting with the estate office and again Mrs K’s housing benefit application was cancelled.

Her claim was finally reinstated in July 2016, when Z2K were able to provide further evidence that Mrs K was living in the property.

In this case the visits made by the Housing Benefit team were ineffective. They failed to provide conclusively if Mrs K was in the property. Secondly they did not take into account the visiting note made in 2013. On the basis of this maladministration we deicded to peruse a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman determined that they failed to consider the DWP Identity Checklist and therefore should have awarded housing benefit when Mrs K submitted her claim in December 2015.

The Ombudsman decided on the basis that the council did not consider the utility bill sufficient evidence as proof of residence when determining Mrs K housing benefit application. The council are to pay Mrs K £150 for the delay caused in acknowledgement of the failing to follow correct procedures.

This decision should add impetus to amend their visiting policy, making sure that reasonable adjustments are made when visiting claimants who are unable to get to the door. In this instance the council failed to check previous records on how an effective visit was made in 2013. We hope that the council have learnt from this case and will now scrutinize past records to get a greater understanding of how to apply measures to check that clients are resident.

The Ombudsman decision should force the local authority to ensure that necessary evidence had been provided and not repeatedly ask for the same information, when it has been provided. We will be monitoring further cases and hope that they will review its visiting processes.

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