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Local housing allowance

Most private tenants have their housing benefit calculated using the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). This is a standard figure across an area (the Broad Rental Market Area) and depends on the size of property a household needs, according to the statutory ‘size criteria’. The Local Housing Allowance payable cannot exceed the rent of the property.

Local Housing Allowances are calculated annually by Valuation Office Agency Rent Officers.  They are published in advance in January, coming into effect from April each year. LHA rates are based on the 30th percentile of a list of private rents for similar size properties in the Broad Rental Market Area. Changes introduced with effect from 2014 mean that the annual uprating will be either the 30th percentile or the previous LHA rate plus either a 1% or 4% increase depending on the property type and area. Increases are capped by upper limits set out in the legislation. The current rates can be found on the council website.

Single tenants who do not have any children and are under the age of 35 will usually have their entitlement to Housing Benefit based on the Local Housing Allowance for a room in a shared house. This is irrespective of whether they rent self-contained accommodation.

There are some exceptions to this rule for some disabled people, certain ex-offenders and people who used to live in hostel accommodation. If this is uncertain, it is best to check.

Local Housing Allowance will usually be paid directly to the tenant every fortnight. It is their responsibility to make payments to the landlord. The landlord may be paid directly if there are exceptional reasons why the tenant is unable to receive payments themselves or if landlord payments would help to secure or maintain a tenancy.

If a tenant is eight weeks behind with their rent, the landlord can be paid directly. Note that this is based on when payment is due, so if rent is to be paid in advance, it is possible that only four weeks have passed by the time a tenant is in arrears. We do our best to provide advice to landlords but the information regarding someone’s Housing Benefit claim is confidential.  Limited information can be shared with landlords if payments are made directly or the claimant has given their express permission that we can discuss the award with their landlord.

>> Changes in circumstance

Claimants must contact the council if there has been a change in their circumstances that may affect their Housing Benefit entitlement. Landlords should also tell the council if they think their tenant has had a change in circumstance.

Examples of changes include:
• The tenant moving out or changing address
• Absences from the property exceeding 13 weeks, even if the tenancy is ongoing
• Household circumstances have changed (partners, children moving in, out etc.)
• Change of room within the same property
If there has been a delay in notifying a change in circumstance an overpayment may result that will need to be repaid either by the landlord or tenant (depending on the payment method and circumstances of the case).

If the change results in more Housing Benefit entitlement it is important that the change is reported to the council within one month of the date of change, otherwise it may only be paid following the date the council was informed. In very exceptional cases the council  can accept changes reported up to 13 months late.

>> Overpayments

An overpayment occurs when Housing Benefit entitlement ends or is reduced and results in more Housing Benefit being paid than the claimant is entitled to. Most overpayments are recoverable from either the claimant or the landlord (if paid directly).

The council will not recover an overpayment from the landlord when they have notified the council that they suspect that an overpayment has occurred and the reason for the overpayment was not a change of address.

If it is decided that an overpayment is recoverable from the landlord, the council will send a letter to them explaining how the overpayment has occurred, the period it covers and the amount.

The council can send an invoice to the landlord to request payment in full or arrange instalments. If the landlord has other tenants who receive Housing Benefit the council can make deductions from payments made in respect of those tenants.

A court order can be obtained for Housing Benefit overpayments to allow the use of bailiffs or a charging order, as well as attachments to earnings and making deductions from the landlord from third party debtors.

>> Appeals

There is a right for ‘affected persons’ to appeal to an independent tribunal. The council will review its decision in any case where an appeal is made. Landlords are limited to appealing against:
• The amount of an overpayment
• Whether the overpayment is recoverable

If the council cannot revise its decision, it will submit the appeal to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service to be considered by the First Tier Tribunal. They will look at whether the council made the correct decision when assessing the case.

Where the landlord does have a right of appeal they must do so within one month of the decision notice being issued to them.

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