A Simple Guide to Benefit Overpayments
Claims from councils for overpayment of benefits from landlords
Councils must pay and recover benefits in according with Housing Benefits Regulations. The RLA's Landlord Advice Team hear from many landlords who have been billed by the council for overpaid benefits. The regulations state that the benefits should be recovered from the person who misrepresented the facts of the claim, or failed to disclose information to the council. It is invariably the tenant who made the claim and not the necessarily the landlord.
This criteria applies in cases where the tenant has moved out without informing the landlord and the council have continued to pay benefits. Landlords are not expected to exercise telepathic powers in these cases, and fundamentally it remains the duty of the benefit claimant, i.e. the tenant, to report any change in circumstances or address to the council. There is no requirement for the landlord to make regular checks at the tenancy address to establish whether the tenant is still in situ.
When a council officer makes a decision to pursue a landlord for an overpayment of benefit, the onus of proof rests with the officer to justify recovery from the landlord, as opposed to the tenant who claimed the benefit. In addition, if the council fail to notify the landlord of their right to appeal the claim, a landlord can maintain that the claim a refund is invalid.
When a landlord exercises their right of appeal the council may withdraw their claim for the benefit refund, as it will cost the council more to defend their claim than press it at a tribunal.
However, a landlord ought to know that if they become aware of any information which may have an effect on the tenant's entitlement to benefit, e.g. tenant gains employment or moves out, then they should notify the council of this information immediately.