Local housing allowance procedure

Vulnerability and direct payments to landlord, policy and procedure

Vulnerability and direct payments under local housing allowance (LHA)

1. DWP (The Department of works and pensions) Guidance

Under LHA a tenant cannot simply request that payment is made to a landlord to cover their rent.  
 
However, direct payments of benefit to a landlord will be made where the Local Authority: 

  • consider that the claimant is likely to have difficulty in managing their affairs (‘can’t pay’) 
  • consider that it is improbable that the claimant will pay their rent   
  • has received written evidence that a claimant is eight or more weeks in arrears with their rent. 

The Department of Work and Pensions have provided guidance on when direct payments to the landlord may be appropriate, where a tenant ‘can’t pay’ or ‘won’t pay’ or if a tenant is eight or more weeks in arrears. 
 
Decisions for the ‘won’t pay’ and ‘eight or more weeks in arrears’ categories are fairly straightforward.  They will be based on evidence of arrears from the landlord or where a tenant shows difficulty managing their financial affairs.   
 
Deciding whether a person ‘can’t pay’ is more sensitive, and therefore the decision- making process more complicated. Officers will decide whether a tenant is ‘vulnerable’ and ‘can’t pay’ so the LHA can be paid directly to the landlord.

2. LBHF (London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham) Procedure aims

When faced with the task of making a decision under the ‘can’t pay’ category it is important to remember the aims of the procedure, so our assessment officers are able to apply it appropriately.  The primary concern of the vulnerability safeguard is to minimise the risk of tenants falling into rent arrears with their landlord.
 
The aim of the vulnerability policy is to:

  • Provide a safeguard for the most vulnerable tenants and reassure them that their benefit and rent will be paid
  • Prevent rent arrears and tenants being put at risk of eviction
  • Help to sustain tenancies for vulnerable tenants
  • Reassure landlords that their rent will be paid if they have vulnerable tenants or are approached by vulnerable tenants
  • Help to put tenants in touch with agencies that will enable the tenant the support to manage their own financial affairs
  • To make reasonable, fair and consistent decisions 
  • Promote a transparent and simple process that is easily understood.
  • To treat each case individually and not make assumptions about people’s situations. 

The policy is not designed to:

  • Supersede support that is being received to allow tenants the opportunity to be responsible tenants and be in control of their own finances.
  • Be used advantageously by landlords to meet the needs of LHA
  • Be a blanket policy for agencies providing support to private tenants. 

3. Decision making process

I. Receiving an application for potential vulnerability

The landlord, tenant or a representative will make in writing a request for payments to be made to the landlord because the tenant is potentially vulnerable. This will be the first instance the council are made aware that a person is potentially vulnerable.

It is very important to get written evidence before a decision is made.

II. Gathering information and evidence

Officers will consider whether the information that has been received is enough to make an appropriate decision.  Ideally this will be written evidence from a third party; Adult Social Care; a G.P (Doctor), support or advisory services such as the CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau). You can also accept evidence from the tenant’s family or friends, but officers should be cautious when considering evidence from a landlord, given the conflict of interest (unless the tenant lives in assisted housing).  However landlords do have a valid role to play, but their evidence alone (or together with the tenants) should not be regarded as sufficient to decide that the safeguard criteria has been satisfied and further evidence should be sought.

If the evidence is not sufficient, then we may request further information from the tenant or their representative by telephone or letter. A response from the tenant or their representative may assist you in making a decision.

The processing of a new claim will not be delayed whilst awaiting supporting evidence of who to pay. If there is insufficient evidence to make payment to a landlord, payment will be made to the claimant in the meantime.  

III. Making a decision

Officers will make one of the following decisions and write to affected parties notifying them of the decision.
 
a) Housing benefit to be paid to the landlord.
 
The Officer has evidence that the claimant either “can’t pay” or “won’t pay” their rent or are eight or more weeks in arrears. 
You must also consider whether the tenant has a short-term situation and can receive help to overcome any problems, if so set an appropriate diary date in Academy (computer software application) to review your decision.  In some cases tenants will have long term situations in which case payments to the landlord will be ongoing.  
 
If the LHA is above the tenant’s contractual rent, a split payment will occur and tenants will be encouraged to open bank accounts if they have not already got one. It is good practise to request at the offset to request both the tenant’s and the landlord’s bank details. All details should be input onto the system as their may be excess payments and if there are no arrears.  This must be paid to the tenant. 

b) Housing benefit to be paid to tenant.

The Officer does not have sufficient evidence that the claimant either “can’t pay” or “won’t pay” their rent or they are eight or more weeks in arrears.

IV. Notifying affected parties

a) Where the tenant is vulnerable and payment of LHA will be made to the Landlord we will:
 
Write to the tenant and or their representative advising them of:

  • The decision
  • Reasons for the decision
  • If and when this decision will be reviewed
  • Appeal rights
  • Any advice agencies, voluntary or statutory organisations that may help them
  • Request bank details if not previously received

Write to the landlord advising that:

  • LHA up to the contractual rent will be paid directly to them on behalf of the tenant
  • Request bank details if not previously received
  • The minimum length of time that this arrangement will stand if the decision is to be reviewed
  • Appeal rights.

b) Where the tenant is not vulnerable and payment of LHA will be made to the tenant you should

Write to the tenant and or their representative advising them of:

  • The decision
  • Reasons for the decision 
  • Appeal rights
  • Any advice agencies, voluntary or statutory organisations that may help them
  • Request bank details (Claimant landlord if not previously received). 

V Updating the system

  • Update claim on the system making the landlord payee if claimant is vulnerable
  • Set a diary date for the review of the decision if appropriate

VI. Reviewing a decision

Where a tenant needs short term help they will be contacted again to determine whether their situation has changed. For example someone with English as a second language may have received help and support and after a year feel confident enough to manage their financial affairs and wish to receive their LHA directly.
 
Where payment is being made to the landlord, this arrangement should continue until a review is completed, a change of circumstances occurs or the claimant requests a review.

There are four occasions when a decision on who to pay has to be reviewed

  • On appeal from a relevant person (a person affected by the decision for example the tenant or landlord or appointee) the appeal will be considered under the current Decision Making and Appeals rules.
  • At a set time after the original decision to check the claimant’s current circumstances and that the original decision is still correct or applicable.  
  • There is a change that would affect the decision for example; someone who was previously unable to manage their affairs now has adequate support.
  • Where the claimant requests a review.

Whenever the local authority decides that payment to the landlord is appropriate, they should set a diary date for conducting a review of their decision to check whether the circumstances relevant to the decision to pay the landlord still apply.

Where the conditions experienced by the tenant are likely to be of a short-term nature, an appropriate review date, not exceeding 12 months, should be set to look again at the decision.

Where the condition is likely to be more of a long-term or permanent nature, the LA may decide it is not appropriate to set a review date.

If payment to a Landlord is stopped, a letter informing the Landlord of this decision should be sent.

The following list highlights some of the possible grounds under which assessment officers should consider whether vulnerability exists and where the possibility of direct payment to the landlord should be considered.  This list however is not a criteria for vulnerability and each case should be considered on its own merit.

4. Possible grounds to be considered under the vulnerability procedure and the evidence required to support the grounds 

Long term

Tenant has a learning disability that prevents them from managing on a daily basis.

Illiteracy (which may be short or long term, depending on the individual’s circumstances).

  • Care or support workers
  • PATHS (placement and assessment teams for homeless and singles)
  • Adult social care
  • DWP (evidence of  benefits)
  • GP

Tenant suffers from a medical condition that makes it hard for them to cope with routine tasks for example, schizophrenia, dementia, terminal illness.

  • Care or support workers
  • GP
  • Adult social care 
  • Hospital

Tenant has a physical disability that means that they are often housebound making it difficult for them to manage their affairs.

  • Care or support workers
  • GP
  • Adult social care 
  • Hospital

Temporary or short term 

Tenant has experienced recent changes that has meant they need additional support in managing their affairs for example, bereavement, (violent) relationship breakdown, period in hospital, leaving prison, leaving care.

  • Care or support workers
  • GP
  • Adult social care
  • Hospital
  • Probation officers
  • Family or friends

Tenant speaks English only as a second language, presenting obstacles to them in opening and running bank accounts, reading and dealing with invoices and bills.

  • Written evidence from support organisations that arrears or debts have occurred as a result of not understanding correspondence

Tenant is dealing with (or has a history of) addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling and a substantial monetary payment to them would present a risk of relapsing.  

  • Support organisations
  • GP 
  • Adult social care
  • Hospital
  • Care or support workers 
  • Supporting people 
  • Special needs unit

Tenant has a history of homelessness and or rough sleeping and is receiving help to sustain a tenancy in the private sector.

  • Housing advice 
  • Advice or welfare agencies
  • Homelessness teams
  • Big Issue

Financial 

Tenant has severe debt problems. For example, County Court Judgment, bad credit rating that prevents opening bank accounts, undischarged bankruptcy

  • Creditors
  • Court orders
  • Solicitors 
  • CAB 
  • DWP JobCentre Plus are paying other paying benefit direct to utility company
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