|An excerpt from Lawpack's Residential Lettings: The Complete Guide.|
Tessa Shepperson, a legal expert in residential landlord and tenancy law, gives her top tips on how landlords can speed up the process when a tenant is applying for Housing Benefit.
There are many problems associated with Housing Benefit and many landlords have a policy of not letting to Housing Benefit tenants, although in some localities landlords will have little choice. But provided you are careful when selecting tenants, they can be profitable and problem-free.
If a tenant is on benefit, they may be entitled to have all or part of their rent paid by Housing Benefit.
When you take on a new Housing Benefit tenant, there is much you can do to help speed up the claim procedure. Housing Benefit Offices are often accused of unwarranted delays; but these are sometimes because they are still missing some of the information they need before the application can be processed.
It's important for your cash flow that payment is made to you as quickly as possible. Also, if there are long delays resulting in a large sum being sent to the tenant at a later stage, there is a great temptation for the tenant to spend it (rather than give it to you).
Here's my top tips on what you can do to speed up the process:
1. Get the application in early
The application for Housing Benefit should go in well before the tenant is due to move into the property. Housing Benefit cannot normally be backdated to before an application is made.
2. Get the original documents in order
Under the verification framework, Housing Benefit Officers will need to see original documents. In particular, they will need to see the original tenancy agreement.
Ensure that these are sent to the Housing Benefit Office promptly.
3. Get the tenant to sign a letter of authority
Tenants should be asked to sign a letter of authority authorising the Housing Benefit Office to provide information to you. If this isn't done, the Housing Benefit Officers will not be able to give any information to you about the progress of the tenant’s application, even if they want to, because of the Data Protection Act.
Ensure that the letter of authority which the tenant signs authorises the Benefit Office to discuss previous benefit claims with you, as well as the current claim.
4. Keep copies of Housing Benefit claim forms
If you regularly let to Housing Benefit tenants, you may wish to consider keeping a stock of the claim forms to give them.
5. Help your tenant to complete the Housing Benefit application form
Some tenants, particularly those who find writing difficult or whose first language is not English, may appreciate your help in filling in the application form. If you do this, you will at least have the security of knowing that the form has actually been completed and submitted!
Remember that if you fill in the form for the tenant, you have to state on the form that you have done this.
6. Is your rental property an HMO?
If your property is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), make sure that each individual unit can be identified (e.g. by giving a room number).
Try not to change these numbers as otherwise this can cause problems at the Housing Benefit Office and may cause it to stop payment of the benefit, if the change makes it appear as if the same room is being claimed for twice.
7. Make sure the rent is the right amount
Remember that Housing Benefit will be limited to the allowable rent for a unit of a suitable size for the applicant.
For example, a single parent with a child needs a two-bedroomed property. If the tenant claims in respect of a three-bedroomed property, they will normally only receive Housing Benefit to the value of a two-bedroomed property and will have to find the difference themselves. This situation may lead to rent arrears building up.
You should bear this in mind when renting to Housing Benefit tenants.
8. Contact the Rent Officer
It is possible for tenants to apply to the Rent Officer and ask the Officer to advise in advance the rent figure that will be used as a starting point for working out their Housing Benefit entitlement.
You can obtain information about Local Housing Allowance levels from the Directgov website.
Published on: May 17, 2012