Waited ages to get housing benefit?
Don't put up with it.
If your claim hasn't been sorted out two weeks after you have given all the information needed, then the Council are legally obliged to make you regular interim payments of Housing Benefit.
This applies to private tenants and housing association tenants. For Council tenants, where the Council are paying the Housing Benefit direct to their own Housing Department, the Council are legally obliged to pay Housing Benefit within 14 days, or if that is not reasonably practicable, as soon as possible after that. An interim payment is a temporary payment of Housing Benefit which is paid regularly, like normal Housing Benefit, until they work out your claim. The law says the council must pay you an amount which it considers reasonable. (An interim payment is sometimes also called a “payment on account”)
WHAT TO DO?
How do you get an interim payment?
Make sure that you have given the Council all the info necessary for them to sort out your claim. It may help to speed things up if you submit a letter requesting an interim payment with your original housing benefit claim form. But if you have not done that don't worry.
Check that 2 weeks have passed since you gave the Council all the info they needed.
Ring them up, and tell them that by law they have to either sort out your claim immediately, or make you an interim payment immediately. The Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, in particular Regulation 93(1), says they must do this.
Interim payments are NOT discretionary. According to the law they must be paid if the circumstances described in 1) and 2) apply.
If they still won't pay, say you will make a complaint to the ombudsman about Council maladministration unless they pay you. (You can do this by contacting the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Freepost EH641, Edinburgh EH3 0BR Tel. 0800 377 7330, email email@example.com website www.spso.org.uk). The ombudsman has the power to make a recommendation that compensation be paid in cases where there has been maladministration. If you live in England & Wales, contact the local government ombudsman 0300 061 0614 PO BOX 4771 Coventry CV4 0EH website www.lgo.org.uk/make-a-complaint/fact-sheets/benefits-and-tax.
If they still won't budge you can demand a meeting with the manager, to which you should go with a friend/adviser to insist that you are paid. If they refuse to give you an appointment ask for the supervisor/manager and insist on your right to an appointment. If they are still being unreasonable you could ring the Housing Benefit Performance Manager to ask for an appointment..
If can also be useful to contact councillors who have the ultimate responsibility for Housing Benefit. In Edinburgh City Council the councillor responsible for Housing Benefit is the convenor of the Finance and Resources Committee, currently (October 2016) Alasdair Rankin, email firstname.lastname@example.org You could also contact your local councillor, ring the Council Info Centre on 0131 529 3078 to find out who they are.
Getting your MP, MEP or MSP to write on your behalf can also be useful, this generally results in your case being "escalated" and looked at by a more senior official.
At any stage feel free to call in at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh on a Tuesday afternoon before 3pm. Either we can ring the authorities for you, or we can give you more info so you can ring them again. We know of several claimants who had been waiting for ages to get Housing Benefit – then they rang up like we have described here, and the Council paid them. They don't like it: you've usually got to be a bit pushy, but it often works. If all else fails, if you want, we can discuss taking some sort of direct action, such as turning up at the housing benefit office with some friends and supporters shortly before it closes, and not leaving until you get a guarantee of payment.
Interim payments can only be refused if it is clear that you will not be entitled – or the reason for the delay is that they have asked you for information or evidence in support of your claim and you failed, without good cause, to provide it. If the delay has been caused by someone else, like the rent officer, your employer, your landlord, or the Department of Work and Pensions, then this does not affect your right to an interim payment.
For example, it is completely wrong for Housing Benefits to say that they cannot pay you until the DWP have worked out your claim, for Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or whatever.
They can and must pay you two weeks after YOU have provided all the info that you can. In addition a claimant cannot be held responsible for a failure to supply evidence or information which he or she has not been specifically asked to provide. For example, take the situation where the Housing Benefit Department writes to the claimant asking for new additional information on the 13th day after the claim was made, and the claimant supplies the info within a few days. In this situation the local authorities cannot then reasonably argue that it was impractical to determine the claim within 14 days because of the claimant's failure to provide the necessary info. The DSS advises that in such a case the authority is obliged to make an initial interim payment on the 14th day following receipt of the claim based on the information originally available. (DSS circular HB/CTB(93)37)
Remember the golden rule when dealing with benefit authorities – always ask for the name of the person you have been speaking to and write it down for future reference. Don't post claim forms into Housing Benefit, instead deliver them by hand and always ask them to photocopy it for you and get a receipt. Or send the letter recorded delivery.
For support or more info call in or ring ACE on a Tuesday 12 - 3pm. We want to do more to publicise the facts about Interim payments, and to force the Council to pay Housing Benefits on time. If interested in helping please get in touch.
The information in this leaflet is based on “Guide to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit”, by J. Zebedee and M. Ward, published by Shelter and Chartered Institute of Housing, and “Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook ” published by the Child Poverty Action Group.
Many people have been threatened with eviction by private or public sector landlords because of housing benefit delays. If this happens to you seek support and advice right away. Contact us, and you could also try your Tenants Association, Edinburgh Tenants Federation, Shelter, Living Rent Scotland's Tenants' Union and if you live in Greater Pilton, North Edinburgh News, who have campaigned against this injustice.
In Scotland, Section 12 of the Homelessness Act 2003 gives sheriffs the discretion to prevent eviction against a tenant who is in rent arrears because their benefit application has not been processed.
Not only in Edinburgh but all over Britain housing benefit claimants are waiting weeks, often months, to get paid money we are owed. This is caused by government cuts, under staffing of housing benefit departments, inadequate training, bureaucratic bungling and successive governments' vindictive treatment of claimants. Why should we put up with this? Let's take action to stop this injustice.
MISUSE OF RESOURCES
While housing benefits claimants wait months to be paid, resources are wasted on the Housing Benefits Investigation Team, who charge about the city playing detectives and snooping on people. Instead of working to ensure claimants are paid what they are due, these bullies follow people, sit outside claimant's houses spying on them, and then interrogate needy people to try and deprive them of benefits. If you are harassed by these snoopers contact us for an advice leaflet and solidarity.
EDINBURGH COALITION AGAINST POVERTY – OUR AIMS
We encourage and aid claimants organising together, and linking up with workers in employment, to oppose and take action against government policies which attack working class people. Why should we put up with a system where everything is run for the profits of business? Why shouldn't society's resources belong to everyone, and be used for people's needs?
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty Solidarity Network brings together claimants and people on low incomes who are willing to support each other with problems with the authorities, e.g. benefits being cut, threatened by sheriff officers, accompanying someone to a problematic benefits interview etc. Contact us if you'd like to join, or find out more. We advise people to take someone with them to any potentially tricky benefits interview. Don't face them alone!
Some of the details of phone numbers and organisations only apply to Edinburgh, but the general principle of the right to interim payments of Housing Benefit applies throughout the UK.
NOTE: Legal status of interim payments and Ombudsman contact details updated and checked December 2010, via the Child Poverty Action Group.