Ombudsman highlighting the human cost of poor housing benefit practice
Families are facing the very real prospect of becoming homeless because of the way some authorities are dealing with appeals against housing benefit claims, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is warning.
In a new report, the Ombudsman highlights the serious problems people face when authorities get things wrong with housing benefit payments.
Despite being gradually replaced by Universal Credit, housing benefit is still paid to some 3.6 million of England’s poorest and most vulnerable people who rely on it to help with living costs. When councils get things wrong this only adds to the pressure these families face.
The Ombudsman’s report looks at the lessons local authorities can learn from the cases it has investigated. In some situations, poor practices have led to confusion and uncertainty while in more extreme cases – including in a report issued this week - families have become homeless.
Nigel Ellis, Chief Executive at the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“The cases we highlight in this report show the very real impact of what can happen when councils do not deliver housing benefit properly. Some of our most vulnerable families are refused a fair hearing by having their rights to appeal their council’s decision taken away.
“Although Universal Credit is being rolled out across the country, this is not happening as quickly as first anticipated; councils still need to ensure they administer housing benefits properly until the new system is in place in their area.
“Last year we upheld 78 per cent of the complaints we investigated about housing benefit, compared with 58 per cent for all our casework. This suggests there are problems with some councils’ understanding of their duties towards claimants and the correct processes they must follow.
“We are issuing this report to provide guidance and good practice advice to help those who administer housing benefits avoid the pitfalls and common problems we are highlighting.”
Problems discussed in the Ombudsman’s report include councils preventing families from challenging decisions about their housing benefit entitlement, or not telling them about their right to appeal, and councils trying to recover overpaid money before appeals have even been considered.
In one case, poor internal communication and poor record keeping at the council coupled with a delay in the appeal process led to more than two years of confusion for one man about the amount of benefit he should be receiving and whether the council was right to pursue him for overpayment.
The Ombudsman investigates complaints about the way councils administer housing benefit, including the administration of appeals. The Ombudsman does not decide whether someone is entitled to housing benefit or not. If someone disagrees with a council’s decision on a claim, after the council has carried out a review of its decision, the council must pass the case to the independent tribunal (Social Entitlement Chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal).
Latest News from
Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill laid in Parliament05/12/2016 12:37:21
A new complaints body will provide the public with greater confidence that their voices have been heard.
More systemic problems seen in Ombudsman complaints lead to increased wider service improvements30/07/2020 09:15:00
Increasing systemic problems seen in people’s complaints has led to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman making more wider service improvement recommendations to councils in 2019-20 than ever before.
Woman loses car because of failings by Merton enforcement agents24/07/2020 09:15:00
Merton enforcement agents acting on behalf of the local council wrongly seized a woman’s car – and her means of employment – when attempting to recover a debt, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
Ombudsman highlights where councils can improve services to homeless people16/07/2020 16:15:00
Problems with the way councils are meeting new housing duties are making some homeless people’s situation worse, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
Ombudsman paints stark picture of NHS complaint handling and launches public consultation to drive improvement16/07/2020 12:43:00
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman yesterday presented a report to Parliament painting a raw picture of an NHS complaints system in urgent need of reform and investment.
Homeless Haringey family left in bed and breakfast accommodation because of council errors09/07/2020 14:15:00
A Haringey mother of six has been living in bed and breakfast accommodation since February 2020 because her local council did not do enough to prevent her from becoming homeless, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
Norfolk council agrees to rigorous scrutiny of services for children with Special Educational Needs03/07/2020 09:15:00
Councillors in Norfolk will be provided with regular detailed analysis of the county council’s special educational needs services following a critical Ombudsman report.
The UK’s national Ombudsman calls on Government to learn from Covid-19 mistakes02/07/2020 14:15:00
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) is calling on the UK Government to give clarity about its plans for a robust and independent lessons-learned exercise into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.