An Upper Court Tribunal has rapped a council and First Tier Tribunal on the knuckles for leaving a landlord out of proceedings when trying to claim back a Housing Benefit overpayment, highlighting the vortex of red tape involved when councils try to claw back payments off tenants.
The First Tier social entitlement court had dismissed the tenant’s appeal against the claim but the Upper Court ruled that it made a legal mistake by failing to appreciate that his landlord should have been added as the second respondent.
The tenant’s Housing Benefit was paid directly to his landlord but, after he had lived away from the property for some time, West Lindsey District Council decided he was not entitled to the benefit and was liable to repay £2,020.97 for a six-month period. The council tried to recover this from him – not the landlord.
The Upper Court ruled: “It was apparent from the evidence that Housing Benefit was paid directly to the landlord and that recovery of the overpayment was being sought from someone else.
“It should have been obvious to anyone reading those regulations that the landlord needed to be joined as a respondent to the appeal.”
However, the judge added that the tenant shouldn’t see this win as an indication of success at the next hearing, where it will be decided exactly who is liable.
Expert Bill Irvine (pictured) says it’s unusual that the council chose to pursue the tenant but that the ruling restates the law, which can be complex and difficult to understand without professional help.
He tells LandlordZONE: “It appears there has been a change in circumstances here which wasn’t reported. There are myths around overpayment – the general rule is you’ll be asked to repay, but landlords have the right to challenge this if the tenant has made a misrepresentation or failed to disclose information.”