Tessa's Ten Top Tips for landlords on the housing benefit system
- Try to get your tenant to sign a letter of authorisation to the Benefit Office authorising them to discuss their application with you. Otherwise the Benefit Office will probably not be willing to let you have any information. This is because the information will be confidential and because of the Data Protection Act.
- Remember when letting to benefit tenants, that benefit will normally be limited to the amount allowed for a property in that area of a suitable size for the applicant. So a single parent with one child will only receive benefit for a two bedroomed property with one living room, even if they are in a three or four bedroomed house.
- If your property is an HMO make sure that each individual unit can be identified, eg by room numbers, and do not change these (as it may then appear to the Benefit Office that benefit is being claimed twice for the same room and benefit payments will stop).
- Try to make sure, if it is a new tenant, that the application goes in well before the tenant is due to move in, as benefit payments cannot be backdated to before the application was made.
- Note that the Benefit Office will need to see original documents, in particular tenancy agreements, under the verification framework, so make sure that your tenant has these, however always retain copies for your own records
- If your tenant is in receipt of Local Housing Allowance this normally cannot be paid direct to the landlord unless your tenant can be classed as 'vulnerable'. If you think this will apply to your tenant, you should contact the benefit office asap as an application on this basis will take some time to process.
- Always co-operate with the benefit agency and provide all information that they require. Otherwise you will slow up the process, which will delay payment.
- Check your insurance policy as some policies exclude cover to landlords if the tenants are on benefit.
- If your tenant fails to pay housing benefit/local housing allowance over to you, note that you can apply to the benefit office to have payment made direct to you once the rent is in arrears of eight weeks or more.
- Where the tenant is in receipt of Local Housing Allowance (which is not normally paid to the landlord direct), note that the regulations provide that the tenant can ask for it to be paid to an independent third party so it can then be passed over to you. Local Credit Unions will often perform this service.
Members can read FAQ and articles on most of the points covered here.
If Housing Benefit/Local Housing Allowance is being paid to you direct, you have a duty to keep the Benefit Office informed if you suspect that the tenant is making a false claim.