Fresource Friday: A guide to direct landlord payment of housing benefit

03.02.2017

A leaflet explaining when housing benefit can be paid direct to private landlords.

It's a common complaint I've heard when trying to save a private tenancy:

The council won't pay housing benefit to the landlord, even though the claimant is unlikely to pay the benefit money to the landlord!
Photograph of rent book and rent money

Many of you will know that, for private tenants, housing benefit is usually paid to the claimant. But there are some exceptions.

I recently provided some training about how to successfully argue to housing benefit offices that benefit should go directly to the landlord. It quickly became clear that two groups who are sometimes in conflict - landlords and homelessness staff - were in total agreement about how their local housing benefit office dealt with requests for direct landlord payments.

Frustration

There was considerable frustration that the council appeared reluctant to pay private landlords directly - even when it appeared the legal criteria were met (I acknowledge that some housing benefit officers are good at preventing homelessness in this way, but in this case all I heard was bad reports).

Working in housing involves everyday application of legal rules - even when the problem you're dealing with doesn't seem like a 'legal issue' at all. Nowhere is this more the case than when navigating the fiendishly complex HB regulations. I often suspect the council folk who process housing benefit claims haven't even read them.

There was a long silence during the training when I asked if anyone had actually quoted the specific HB regulations when asking for direct payments. I could also hear a pin drop when I asked if anyone had appealed a negative decision. One landlord said that she'd phoned the council and explained how she needed to pay her mortgage. I was impressed by her honesty, but don't rate this as a tactic for persuading the council to pay the landlord directly.

Playing the game

I hope the training reinforced for attendees that when giving housing advice you'll often get nowhere fast until you learn how to play the system. By which I mean:

  • finding the relevant bit of law
  • getting to grips with what should happen in the particular case you're dealing with if the law is correctly applied (a.k.a . applying the law to interpret the facts), and
  • being willing to use your legal remedy if your opposite number doesn't play by the rules, e.g. by using your right to appeal or formally complain. (Rather than, say, just moaning about how rubbish the council are).

When requesting direct landlord payments this means constructing a persuasive argument (having checked what the rules say) as to why the private landlord should receive the housing benefit. In short you should set out in writing how the legal criteria for making direct payments are met because of the particular circumstances.

Finding the rules

Which poses a problem doesn't it. Namely, where the blinking 'eck do you find the rules?

Personally, I'm a big fan of Shelter's online advice and advice guides. Shelter really do have the knack of explaining housing law in plain English.

So, with their kind permission, a few years ago I wrote a booklet about the direct payment rules using their advice guide format.

.pdf
772.37 KB

A leaflet explaining when housing benefit can be paid direct to private landlords.

Hopefully the guide will help if you need some light shone on the direct payment regulations. Note that the leaflet only deals with tenants of private landlords who are claiming housing benefit (not universal credit).

And while we've still got housing benefit, hopefully it will help some of you prevent vulnerable tenants from losing their tenancies.

Accompanying letters

To help matters along, I've included some template letters at the back of the guide.

There are more letters that you can download individually from the Resources section (search for 'housing benefit' or choose 'housing benefit' in the drop down filter).

There are letters for:

  • claimants (select 'member of the public' on the user dropdown filter) and
  • private landlords (select 'private landlord' on the user filter).

They're all free to download!

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