A big issue is Council benefits officials suspending claimants’ housing benefit for no good reason, on a whim, on a rumour, suddenly, with no notice, with no chance for the claimant to be heard before they suspend, with extreme difficulty in getting heard after they suspend, with unanswered claimant / customer telephone help lines, with emails that they “endeavour to answer within 28 days, however, this may not always be possible due to the high volume of enquiries received at certain times”.
Unless you are lucky enough to have savings in the bank then you can’t pay your rent while your housing benefit is suspended and that’s the first step on the road to homelessness.
Whether or not a tenant claiming benefits is actually evicted for being unable to meet their rent because of delays in benefits, any inability to pay rent when due will harm relations between tenant and landlord so any delays in benefits will acquire a bad reputation for benefit claimants as tenants.
Certainly that’s a big issue in Aberdeen, with my claim for housing benefit being suspended now and then, even though I’ve been on benefits and living at the same address for years. I always get it sorted out, eventually.
Neither Lorna Slater, nor Patrick Harvie, the Tenants’ Rights minister, nor any other Scottish Government minister has ever done anything to stop Aberdeen City Council suspending benefit in such an uncaring fashion so I assume that carelessness could be repeated by every other council in Scotland too, although I would hope not.
Any “New Deal for Tenants” must improve tenant rights vis-à-vis the local council’s handling of claims and reviews of claims for housing benefit.
A New Deal for Tenants should insist there are no delays in awarding benefits and no suspension of benefits once awarded.
Suspension of housing benefit should be outlawed. Once a claim has been granted, it should be a crime for the council to withhold a claimant’s due housing benefit on any pretext pending a review of the claim or any change of circumstances.
Unless the council has irrefutable proof that the claimant can no longer possibly be entitled to the housing benefit claimed then the claimant should be given the benefit of any doubt and the housing benefit continue to be paid as normal until all outstanding questions answered, evidence gathered and uncertainties cleared up, one way or another.
Claimants should be fully heard at every stage that their claim is being assessed for the first time or reassessed because of a change of circumstances.
Claimant / customer telephone help lines should be answered immediately or if that is simply impossible (when calling out of office hours) then callers should be invited to record a message on an answering machine leaving their telephone number for a council official to call back in the next working day.
Emails should be replied to within 1 working day.