13 I'm having problems with housing benefit.
Housing benefit is a means-tested benefit administered by your local council. Although your council runs the system, they have to apply rules that are set by the Government.
People experience many different problems with housing benefit. The most common problems you may experience include:
- delays in processing claims;
- overpayments or underpayments;
- difficulty in backdating a claim; and
- your benefit not covering your rent.
How to challenge a decision
- If you think a decision about your housing benefit is wrong, you can challenge it. For example, you may think you are entitled but have been turned down, or you may think you have been paid the wrong amount. You have the legal right to ask the local council to reconsider their decision, or you can appeal to an independent tribunal. You should take action within one month.
- If you are unhappy with a decision about your rent (for example, if the rent your housing benefit can cover has been restricted), you can ask the council to look at this decision again, but you cannot appeal. You should take action within six weeks.
- After the council has looked at your case again, it will write to tell you the result and whether you have a legal right to appeal against the decision if you are unhappy with it. You should do this within one month. The council may provide a form for you to submit your appeal, or they may accept a letter if it contains all the information they need.
Overpayment and underpayment
- If you are paid more housing benefit than you are entitled to, you usually have to pay it back. However, you do not have to pay it back if the overpayment was caused only by an official error and you could not have been expected to realise you were being overpaid. If you have been told that the council can recover an overpayment but you think it was caused by an official error which you could not have noticed, you can challenge the decision by getting it reconsidered or appealing.
- Even if an overpayment was not caused by an official error, the council do not always have to get the money back and you can ask them if they will consider not recovering it, for example if recovery would cause you hardship.
- If there has been an overpayment, the council may also investigate you for housing benefit fraud. You should get specialist advice if this happens. Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and you could be prosecuted, or asked to pay a penalty, or your benefit may be reduced in the future.
- If your housing benefit is not enough to cover your rent, you may be able to get a discretionary housing payment from the council. This is not a payment of housing benefit, but it is extra money that can be paid to people to help with their housing costs.
Complaining about your housing benefit claim
If you are not happy with the service provided by the council, for example if there are long delays on your housing benefit claim, or mistakes are made, then you can complain. The council will have its own complaints procedure. If you are still not happy after you have been through the complaints procedure, you can go to the Local Government Ombudsman with your complaint. You can complain whether or not you also want to challenge a housing benefit decision.
If you need help dealing with your housing benefit or any other aspect of welfare benefits, we recommend that you speak to one of our welfare benefit advisers on 0845 345 4 345 for specialist advice. Telephone specialist advice is only available if you qualify for legal aid.