LEGAL EAGLE: Seek advice on rent payments

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I work part time and get part of my rent paid by Housing Benefit. I am struggling to pay the balance, particularly since the bedroom tax came in as I have a spare room. Is there any additional help I can get?

You may be able to get Discretionary Housing Payments from the Local Authority.

Discretionary Housing Payments can be paid to Housing Benefit claimants if the Local Authority believes the claimant needs extra help to pay rent. The payments can also cover any payments you have to make toward any rent arrears you have. One exception is where the rent arrears arose in a period when you were receiving enough housing benefit to pay your rent in full.

Each Local Authority gets a set sum of money from central government to for discretionary housing payments each year. The Local Authority then decides who gets that money.

You claim a discretionary housing payment by asking at your local council office for a form. The form is different from the usual Housing Benefit form. You will need to fill in details of all your income and outgoings to show that you cannot afford your rent payments, and you will need to give details of whether there are any special circumstances that led to or worsened your financial difficulties.

The Local Authority will look at your income, and whether you can get any assistance from elsewhere, perhaps another household member. They will consider any health problems you have, and what steps you have taken to try to sort out your finances. They are likely to ask you for evidence of your income, your expenditure and evidence of any debts you have. They may contact you to discuss your claim and get further information from you.

If you are awarded Discretionary Housing Payments it is usually paid along with your Housing Benefit. It is time limited, for example for 6 or 12 months.

Discretionary Housing Payments will not be paid to make up a shortfall caused by a previous overpayment of Housing Benefit. It will also not be paid to cover service charges or if your Housing Benefit is suspended.

If you are turned down for Discretionary Housing Payments, or are not satisfied with the amount awarded, you can ask the Local Authority to review their decision. However, there is no right of appeal to a Tribunal as with Housing Benefit, and if the decision isn’t changed you cannot usually pursue the matter any further.

If you are struggling with your rent payments it is a good idea to get some advice. Ben Hoare Bell LLP has specialist Housing Law Solicitors that can offer legal advice in these situations. To speak to a Solicitor ring 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk or go to www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.