A London landlord is celebrating after successfully challenging a £54,500 Housing Benefit overpayment bill from his council.
The demand was made in July when a ‘cousin’ of the tenant told both the council and the landlord that the tenant had left the property back in 2017 – and insisted the landlord had been informed at the time.
The council then revised the benefit award retrospectively for four years, creating a £54,000 overpayment.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd’s Bill Irvine (pictured) appealed against the decision, pointing out that the tenant had never notified the landlord and had even reported heating faults in 2018, allowed access to contractors and had continued to make top-up payments until mid-July 2018.
Irvine believes that the tenant probably handed the keys to a friend or relative who then occupied the property, knowing that housing benefit was covering most of the rent.
“I questioned the legitimacy of the council acting on information provided by someone other than the tenant,” Irvine tells LandlordZONE.
“The cousin had no authority to act on behalf of the landlord, however the tenant had an obligation to report the fact he had left to both the council, as a recipient of housing benefit, and his landlord, as he had agreed to this under the terms of his tenancy.”
Councils will pursue landlords on the basis that they could have known about a tenant’s activities and if they’ve got other benefit-claiming tenants, councils can take money from their payments until the overpayment is cleared. The DWP encourages authorities to recover these and if they’re successful, will award them a bonus of 40% of the amount.
It’s a way of generating income, adds Irvine, who advises landlords to either challenge decisions themselves or get advice, particularly if the alleged overpayments are for more than a few thousand pounds. He adds: “While that challenge is ongoing the council will supress recovery and you’ve got nothing to lose. Every time I’ve challenged one, it has been conceded.”