Guidelines for deciding vulnerability
The council will use the guidelines set out in the Safeguard Policy to decide whether it's in a tenant's interest for their Local Housing Allowance to be paid directly to their landlord. This is to:
- Provide a safeguard for tenants who are likely to have problems managing their financial affairs and reassure them that their benefit entitlement will be paid
- Help prevent rent arrears and the risk of eviction for tenants who are likely to have problems managing their finances
- Reassure landlords that the benefit entitlement will be paid
Tenants will be put in touch with other agencies and support groups where they'll be helped to manage their own financial affairs, e.g. Trading Standards, Money Advice Service and Citizens Advice.
The Safeguard Policy also exists to ensure council officers make reasonable, fair and consistent decisions, but also ensure each case is treated individually.
The policy is not designed to replace any support that is already being received by tenants to help them to manage their finances, nor is it a blanket policy for agencies providing support to private tenants. As there may be other situations in which tenants would be classed as vulnerable, each request will be dealt with on its own merits.
What happens when a tenant is classed as vulnerable
If someone is classed as vulnerable, this will be reviewed three months from the date of the decision. At that time, the benefit office will decide whether they think the tenant will be able to meet their financial commitments. If this is the case, benefit will start being paid directly to the tenant. Both the landlord and tenant will be issued with notifications which will give full rights of appeal if either party disagree with the decision.
If someone is considered vulnerable due to their financial circumstances, eg has severe debt problems (County Court Judgements, bankruptcy, bad credit rating preventing them from opening a bank account), then a review period will be set for each individual case, depending on the severity of the situation. As an example, if a tenant has three months' rent arrears but is making a contribution to reduce the amount owing, a review period will be set in line with the expected date the debt is due to be repaid.
Please note, if a tenant has an appointee acting on their behalf because they are 'unable for the time being to act', they may not considered as vulnerable.
When payment will be made directly to a landlord
In addition to the Safeguard Policy, the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations require payments to be made to the landlord if a tenant is in arrears of eight weeks or more of the amount of their liability to their landlord. Payment will be made to the landlord unless it's in the overriding interest of the tenant not to do so. The landlord must provide a rent statement as proof that there are arrears, and details of payments made.
If a tenant or their representative thinks they are likely to have difficulty managing their money they should contact the council immediately to request that the Local Housing Allowance is paid to their landlord. The landlord or their representative can also make requests.
For an application form, please call 01642 726006 or report a change in where benefit is paid.
Written evidence requirements
All requests to pay Local Housing Allowance to the landlord need to explain why the tenant is likely to have difficulty managing their money. The request must be supported with written evidence.
Dependent upon the tenant's particular circumstances, supporting evidence will be accepted from:
- The tenant's doctor, hospital, or another medical professional
- Social services or a care worker
- Advice agencies such as CAB, Age Concern, Money Advice etc.
- The tenant's family or friends
- Rent deposit guarantee scheme (Shield Project)
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Probation Service / the Courts / solicitors
- Support community help groups
- Banks or building societies
Evidence from a landlord cannot be accepted on its own.
Notifying affected parties
Once a decision has been reached to pay the allowance directly to the landlord, the tenant or representative who made the request will then be advised of the following:
- The decision and reasons for it
- If and when the decision will be reviewed
- Appeal rights
- Advice agencies, or voluntary or statutory organisations that may be able to help them
- Contact details for the Money Advice Service if they don't have a bank account and will be receiving excess allowance themselves
The landlord will also be advised:
- Whether their tenant has been found vulnerable, and if so, that the council will pay them Local Housing Allowance not exceeding the contractual rent
- If and when the decision will be reviewed
- To request bank details if not previously received
- The landlord's appeal rights against the decision
Please note that the landlord will only receive the above information if the landlord is involved in the vulnerability application.