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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Stopping eviction with a Housing Benefit backdate

Jamie contacted Housing Rights when his landlord told him that he owed around £6,000 in rent. Jamie was surprised as he thought that Housing Benefit paid his full rent and rates. His landlord issued him with eviction papers and Jamie came to us for help.

Housing Benefit claim stopped when claimant moved house

Jamie has been a private tenant for almost 10 years. He'd been getting Housing Benefit at his last rented home. A few months ago, he moved out of that property and moved into a new private tenancy.

Jamie said he'd told the Housing Executive about the move. He remembered filling in a form about his new address and giving this to staff in his local office.

We asked the Housing Executive what had happened with Jamie's claim. They told us they'd cancelled it because

  • Jamie hadn’t told them he’d moved house until more than a month after he moved, and
  • Jamie had told them he’d be staying with his brother while he was between tenancies.

The Housing Executive said that Jamie's claim ended when he moved in with his brother. That move ended his legal responsibility to pay rent. As a working-age person, he couldn't make a new claim for Housing Benefit. They told him to claim Universal Credit instead.

Jamie disagreed with the Housing Executive. He knew he'd completed a change of address form. And, he wouldn't have been welcome to stay with his brother, as the two hadn't been on speaking terms for years.

Our adviser Yolande helped Jamie to challenge the decision.

Reviewing the records to work out what happened

Looking at the official records of a Housing Benefit claim is a useful way to find out what happened. Jamie has a right to request any information the Housing Executive holds about him. The Housing Executive has to provide this free of charge. Yolande made a subject access request to get a copy of Jamie's claim file.

When Jamie's file arrived, Yolande found

  • the file said that Jamie visited the Housing Benefit office a couple of weeks after his move, but didn't include any more information or paperwork from this visit
  • the file had no record of Jamie saying he'd be moving in with his brother.

Yolande felt the balance of probabilities suggested Jamie's reason for going to the office was to tell them about his planned move. The Housing Executive could give no other explanation for this visit. It's possible that a staff member had lost or misplaced the form Jamie remembered filling in.

Asking for a revision of a Housing Benefit decision

Yolande asked the Housing Executive to revise its decision to close Jamie's claim. Her arguments were

  • there was evidence of Jamie visiting the Housing Executive shortly after he moved
  • Jamie remembered handing a change of address form to the Housing Executive
  • Jamie's file couldn't provide a different reason for his visit to the office
  • there was nothing in Jamie's file to suggest he'd planned to move in with his brother

Jamie moved into his new home shortly after giving his old landlord the standard 28 days' notice that he was moving out. This meant he was legally responsible for paying rent on both properties for a few weeks. Yolande asked that the Housing Executive to

  • reinstate his Housing Benefit claim, paying any money owed, and
  • make an overlapping payment to cover the period when Jamie couldn't avoid paying rent on two properties.

Reopening a Housing Benefit claim closed in error

The Housing Executive agreed they had made an error in ending Jamie’s Housing Benefit claim. His claim was reinstated and backdated in full. Jamie’s Housing Benefit claim could be reopened because 

  • the Housing Executive made a mistake when they ended Jamie’s claim, and
  • Jamie hadn’t claimed Universal Credit yet

It's really important to get advice before making a Universal Credit claim. Some people are better off on Housing Benefit and may be able to reopen a claim closed in error.

Casework prevented homelessness and kept our client in his home

The backdated payment and the overlapping payment cleared Jamie's arrears. His landlord agreed not to go ahead with the eviction and gave Jamie a new 12-month contract for the property.

Without Yolande's hard work, Jamie would almost certainly have ended up homeless.

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This article was written on 18 November 2021. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.