The BBC have announced that some families are being made homeless by failures in the housing benefit system.
Some English authorities have calculated housing benefit payments incorrectly and then limiting rights of appeal, as found by the Local Government Ombudsman.
The housing benefits scheme received hundreds of complaints between 2018 and 2019, but only 8/10 of these were upheld after investigation. It was discovered that councils weren't getting enough funding for administrative costs behind the housing benefit.
These households struggling to keep a roof over their head need these benefits and any mistakes can have huge impacts.
Examples of families impacted
There was one case where a family with a disabled child experienced incorrect housing benefits calculated by Haringey Council, resulting in them having to leave their home in London. They were living in privately rented accommodation but told to leave by their landlord after he was informed that they owed over £8,000 in backdated benefits, which was incorrect.
As a result, the young family had to stay in accommodation which wasn't suitable until the council sorted out the problem. The council had to pay out £1,000 for distress caused, plus £1,300 compensation for the unsuitable accommodation they had to stay in for 6 months, and £500 for storage costs.
Another example is of a man who didn't know the amount of benefits he was eligible for, which went on for 2 years. He also didn't know how much the council would pursue him for. It turned out that an inability to update records as well as a simple error resulted in the council being unable to calculate why they had overpaid his housing benefit. At the same time, they were sending the man letters threatening recovery action every two weeks.
Between 2018 and 2019, the Local Government Ombudsman were sent 491 complaints but only investigated 74 of them thoroughly.
The lack of detailed examination of the complaints was because of a few reasons. For example, some councils stopped families from challenging issues as they interpreted rules around appeals overly literally.
The ombudsman said that people should not be halted from appealing if they didn't use the word review or appeal in their communication. They can't expect everyone to understand or know the finer points of housing-benefit legislation.
There's a timescale of one month where families are allowed to appeal, but some councils started collecting overpayments before this time was up or the appeals had been looked at. Other councils didn't pass on disputed decisions to the relevant social-security tribunal.
These issues are caused by there not being enough funding to the councils for housing benefits, as well as them facing pressures and uncertainty over welfare reforms. The introduction of universal credit added pressure on top by stretching revenues.
In order to avoid these problems in the future, councils require the correct levels of funding which are delivered on time. This will enable them to support claimants while providing the best and fairest service they can.