Here is a blog clinic question from Paul who is a landlord
I had a housing benefit tenant who absconded after months without paying any rent whatsoever. It turns out she never actually left her previous house in another council area, but used my property as a second home.
I had to go through the section 21 process to evict, but ended up with arrears of over £3,000. When I contacted the council to inform them of this fraud (someone on benefits should not have 2 houses) and to request a deduction from their benefits for the rent arrears, they said ‘the tenant never registered for housing benefit at your property so you are not entitled to any refund/arrears from us’.
Is this correct or is there another way I can recover the arrears?
So far as I can see Paul you are not going to be able to recover these arrears from Housing Benefit and I suspect you will not see your money.
Housing benefit is not there as a ‘pot’ for landlords to make a claim against if their tenants fall into arrears. It is a benefit which is paid to tenants to help them pay their rent if their circumstances fit the criteria. There are strict guidelines under which it is paid and at present it is paid to the tenant and not the landord.
There are only two circumstances where it will be paid direct to the landlord. The first is if the tenant is deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ for some way. You and the tenant have to apply for this and the application can take some time to process.
Then if a tenant is in arrears of over eight weeks / two months, the landlord can contact the Council and ask them to pay the rent direct. However this cannot be used for arrears, and they will not do this if the tenant has moved out!
Even if you have a County Court Judgement I don’t think you can use this at present to get any payment from the tenants benefit (although you can get an attachment of earnings order against a judgement debtors salary if they have a job).
There was some talk in the press about making deductions from benefits for people convicted in connection with the summer riots, but I think this was for magistrates courts fines, not the landlords rent arrears.
The real answer Paul, is to be extra vigilant when choosing a tenant in the first place. Doing proper referencing and credit checks will help you spot the dishonest tenants.