One of the principles behind the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) when it was introduced was that tenants take responsibility for paying their rent, just as those not receiving housing benefit do. As a result tenants cannot ask us to pay their Local Housing Allowance direct to landlords.
To protect more vulnerable tenants we do have some discretion to pay landlords direct to ensure a tenant who is unable to manage a budget does not end up homeless. Our policy sets out the guidelines we follow in making our decision.
Aims and objectives
- To provide a safeguard for the most vulnerable tenants and reassure them that their benefit and rent will be paid.
- To help prevent rent arrears and tenants being put at risk of eviction.
- To help sustain tenancies for vulnerable tenants.
- To reassure landlords their rent will be paid if they have vulnerable tenants or are approached by vulnerable tenants.
- To help put tenants in touch with other agencies where necessary and give people the opportunity and support so they can manage their own affairs.
- To ensure council officers make reasonable, fair and consistent decisions.
- To promote a transparent and simple process that is widely understood.
- To treat each case individually and to avoid making assumptions about people's situations.
The policy is not designed to:
- Supersede support being received by tenants and helping them to be responsible for their own income and expenditure.
- Be a blanket policy for agencies providing support to private tenants.
- Be used by landlords to circumvent the aims of LHA.
Alerting the council of potential vulnerability
The tenant or their representative makes the Council aware that they would prefer their LHA to be paid to the landlord. The request needs to be supported with written evidence from a third party, but initially can be by:
- A letter / e-mail.
- A phone call.
- The application form.
Gathering information and evidence
Officers will consider the information that has been received and whether there is enough evidence to make an appropriate decision. Evidence can be from:
- Social Services.
- Reputable financial institutions.
- Support or advisory services eg CAB.
- Other council services eg Housing Enabling.
Evidence from a landlord cannot be accepted on its own.
Making a decision
One of two decisions will be recommended and approved by a manager:
- The tenant is vulnerable and payment of LHA will be made to the landlord.
- The tenant is not vulnerable and payment of LHA will be made to the tenant.
Notifying affected parties
We will write to the tenant and/or their representative and advise them of the following:
- The decision and reasons for it.
- If and when the decision will be reviewed.
- Appeal rights.
- Advice agencies, voluntary or statutory organisations that may help them.
- Contact details for Oxted / Caterham CAB if they will be receiving excess LHA themselves.
We will write to the landlord and tell them:
- If their tenant has been found vulnerable and the council will pay them LHA up to the contractual rent.
- If and when the decision will be reviewed.
- Request bank details if not previously received.
- If their tenant has been found not to be vulnerable, the landlords appeal rights against this decision.
Examples of vulnerability
Reasons we might pay the landlord instead of the tenant might be because the tenant:
- Has a medical condition (affecting their mental or physical health).
- Has a learning disability or a physical disability.
- Does not speak English as their first language.
- Is going through some changes which means the tenant needs some extra support.
- Is dealing with an addiction (to alcohol or drugs).
- Has severe debt problems eg CCJs, bankruptcy, or a bad credit rating preventing them from having a bank account.
- Is in serious risk of homelessness and has had dealings with the housing enabling service at the Council.
Legislative protection of payment to landlords
The vulnerability policy does not replace the legislative stipulations for payment to a landlord. Housing Benefit legislation requires the Council to pay directly to the landlord in certain situations:
- The tenant is eight weeks or more in arrears.
- The tenant has deductions made from their Income Support / JSA or ESA for former rent arrears.
- The tenant is not yet in eight weeks of arrears, but there are substantial arrears and it appears to the Council to be in the best interest of the tenant to avoid further debt building up. This decision remains at the discretion of the Council.
Evidence of rent arrears will always be required by the Council if the landlord asks us to change the payment direction. If there is a dispute (over tenancy conditions such as redecoration/ maintenance etc) and the rent is being withheld by the tenant until the landlord discharges his legal duty this will not entitle the Landlord to ask for direct payment, unless the withholding of the rent is deemed unreasonable. In this situation, the Council may choose to withhold payment until the dispute is resolved or may continue to pay the tenant. The Council is not empowered to mediate in landlord tenant disputes in its role as benefit payer.