As most of our tenants are on Housing Benefit, rent payments are sometimes delayed. This can be due to several reasons:-
- Cheques late in arriving
- Housing Benefit payable 2 weeks in advance and 2 weeks in arrears.
- Housing Benefit payable 4 weekly rather than calendar monthly.
- New claim not yet processed or delays encountered in processing.
- Change in rent.
This means that some tenants in receipt of benefit paid directly to themselves remain 4 weeks in arrears throughout their tenancy. The Association is not unduly concerned in cases such as these as outstanding sums can be recovered at the end of a tenancy. The Association does however ask tenants to keep the Housing Manager informed if their rent account will remain 4 weeks in arrears.
The Association recognises the importance of monitoring individual rent accounts in order to identify erratic patterns of payment or long periods of non payment. Situations such as these can alert the Housing Manager, Scheme Manager and Welfare Officers that tenants may be experiencing financial difficulties. In order to achieve this the Housing Manager, Chief Executive and Finance Officer will meet on a monthly basis to review all Arrears cases.
Since the commencement of Supporting People in April 2003 and the associated Assessment Procedure and Support Planning Process the Association is now able to identify prior to the commencement of a tenancy whether an individual may be entitled to Housing Benefit. This in turn enables the Association to submit a benefit claim for the individual as soon as the tenancy commences and also ensures that the correct information is submitted. Wherever possible tenants are encouraged to allow information to be disclosed to named officers of the Association in order to expedite the process of their claim.
The Association recognises the increasing age, frailty and vulnerability of its tenants and where deemed appropriate by the Housing Manager, the Association will accept Housing Benefit directly from relevant Local Authorities on behalf of tenants who are unable to manage their finances or rent accounts independently.
Wherever possible the Association will endeavour to avoid legal proceedings particularly in the case of a known vulnerable tenant. The Association adheres to the legally recognised Rent Arrears Protocol which came into effect on October 2nd 2006.
The Association will:
- Make contact with the tenant as soon as is reasonably possible if any tenant should fall into arrears in order to discuss the tenants financial situation and cause of the arrears. The Association will identify whether the tenant is entitled to Housing Benefit and will discuss repayment of the arrears.
- Will agree an affordable sum for the tenant to pay towards their arrears and will specify a time scale within which the tenant should comply with repayment. This shall be done by letter.
- Shall provide rent statements on a quarterly basis to all tenants and where requested provide statements from the date when arrears first arose. This statement shall show all payments made and received.
- Arrange for alternative arrangements to be made for those tenants who are unable to understand their rent statements either by way of an interpreter or other appropriate means of communication.
- Shall remain aware of those tenants who may not have the mental capacity to defend legal proceedings and where necessary investigate the appointment of a litigation friend or legal advocate.
- Shall remain aware of any possible issues arising under the DDA 1995.
- Shall consider whether in the case of vulnerable tenants there is a need for a Community Care Assessment if one has not already been carried out.
- Shall where appropriate apply via the proper channels for arrears to be deducted from the tenants benefits at source i.e. DWP.
- Shall offer to assist any tenant with any claim for Housing Benefit.
- Shall not commence proceedings against any tenant who can demonstrate that the relevant LA has been provided with all relevant details pertaining to their claim for benefit, or who is known to have a reasonable expectation of eligibility for HB and has paid all other sums not eligible for benefit.
- Shall work together with the tenant to proactively solve any benefit issues.
In the event that Notice is served the Association shall:
- Before the issue of proceedings, shall make every reasonable effort to contact the tenant to discuss the amount of arrears, cause of arrears, repayment of arrears and position regarding Housing Benefit entitlement.
- Shall agree to postpone Court Proceedings should the tenant agree to pay the current rent and a reasonable amount towards arrears for as long as the tenant adheres to such an arrangement. Should the tenant cease to comply with the arrangement the Association shall inform the tenant of its intention to bring about proceedings and clear limits shall be given within which the tenant must comply.
- The Association shall always consider alternative means of resolving arrears problems by way of discussion and negotiation without recourse to litigation wherever possible and the Association recognises that it may be required by the Court to provide evidence that alternative means of resolving the problem have been considered.
- The Association endorses the view that litigation should be a last resort to reclaim monies owing and claims will not be issued prematurely when a settlement or resolution is still being considered or sought.
In the event that Proceedings commence the Association shall:
- Not more than 10 days before the Court date provide the tenant with up to date rent statements and disclose any information possessed by the Association in relation to the tenants claim for HB to the tenant.
- Inform the tenant of the time and date of the court hearing and the order applied for.
- Shall advise the tenant that they should attend the hearing as their home is at risk.
- Shall maintain records of any such advice given.
- Shall agree to postpone court proceedings should the tenant comply with any arrangement made to pay the current rent and outstanding amount.
- Shall advise the tenant that proceedings shall recommence should the tenant cease to comply with the arrangement.
Should the Association not comply with the terms of this procedure and agreed protocol, the Association accepts that the court may impose one of the following sanctions:
- An order for costs
- In cases other than those brought about on mandatory grounds, adjourn, strike out or dismiss.
Tenants should be aware that should they fail to reasonably comply with this procedure and protocol, the court may take such failure into account when considering whether it is reasonable to make possession orders.
In the event that a tenant has no entitlement to benefit, is capable of managing their affairs independently and is known to be not vulnerable then the Association shall commence proceedings in line with the above procedure.