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Tag Archive for Housing Benefit

How did the Government wrongly cancel an epileptic woman’s benefits three times, nearly making her homeless?

The government needs to look seriously at restoring legal aid for early intervention welfare benefits work or people like Mrs J will end up losing their homes.

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Cambridge House solicitor Serdar Celebi took on Mrs J’s case and helped clear her rent arrears and restore her benefit.

Mrs J is a council tenant who suffers from epilepsy and a blood clot on the brain which causes her to have seizures. Errors in her Housing Benefit (which continued once she transferred to Universal Credit) resulted in her getting behind on rent. The Department for Work and Pensions then (wrongly) cancelled her benefits on the grounds that as she wasn’t entitled to them as a Brazilian national. With her benefits cancelled, her local authority landlord moved to evict her.

On the morning of her eviction hearing, Mrs J suffered multiple seizures, preventing her from getting to court. The hearing went on without her and the judge granted the possession order to the local authority, meaning they could evict her.

Faced with losing her home, Mrs J sought support from Cambridge House’s Law Centre. One of our solicitors represented her, arguing that her benefits had been wrongly withdrawn and that she remained entitled to support as a family member of a person with a right to reside in the UK (her husband, from whom she had separated). Our solicitor also highlighted that the local authority had neglected repairs to her home and that she had a potential claim for compensation against them.

This was a complete success. The local authority agreed to withdraw the possession order, pay compensation for the repair problems, and cover her legal costs. At the same time, Mrs J’s Housing Benefit claim was backdated and she won her Universal Credit appeal, clearing her rent arrears.

Sadly, this wasn’t the end of Mrs J’s ordeal. Despite winning her appeal at a tribunal hearing, the DWP again suspended her Universal Credit on faulty grounds. Cambridge House had to send a letter threatening Judicial Review proceedings before they would concede. However, as soon as her benefits re-commenced, the DWP withdrew them again, once more on faulty grounds. Though this time, the DWP conceded without the need for a hearing, Mrs J still needed solicitor support to put things right.

In the end, Mrs J’s benefits were cancelled 3 times in a row, each time in error. This, combined with rent arrears that were also not her fault, nearly resulted in her homelessness. The Cambridge House Law Centre solicitor who took Mrs J’s case, Serdar Celebi, explains what this means:

‘I think the main lesson from this case is that social security law is very complex and without representation Mrs J may have now been homeless due to rent arrears which had accrued due to no fault of her own. She had legal aid for the possession claim and proposed judicial review but the two tribunal appeals were done under other funding as legal aid was removed for such cases in 2013.

‘The government needs to look again urgently at restoring legal aid for early intervention work in relation to benefits and for tribunal cases. If Mrs J had not been able to find a law centre with alternative funding she may have had to deal with the complex tribunal proceedings herself. Mrs J showed tremendous resolve and patience despite the stress she was under.’

‘I, Daniel Blake’ – Not So Far From The Reality – Safer Renting Blog

Safer Renting works to tackle criminal landlords and support their victims across London. The Project Director Roz Spencer, as seen on Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords, has over 30 years experience working with private sector and social housing in London. This blog follows her experiences working with some of the most vulnerable tenants in London.

Ken Loach, I Daniel Blake, housing, eviction, illegal landlord, private sector housing, illegal eviction, shelter, rogue landlord, roz spencer, Cambridge House, safer Renting,

Ken Loach, director of ‘I, Daniel Blake’, has been highly critical of recent welfare reforms and efforts to tackle the housing crisis. Photo via Wikipedia.

Ken Loach’s new Palme D’Or winning film, I, Daniel Blake hit our cinemas on Friday. The film follows a 59-year old carpenter navigating a hostile welfare system to claim sickness benefit and a single mother who, in order to escape a homeless persons’ hostel, with her family is forced to relocate to a residence 300 miles away. I have high hopes for it to make the case to government about the dire state we’re in, both in housing and on welfare – governments are unfortunately slow to see the imperative for change until popular culture sets out the case.

My experiences this last week suggests things in the London private rented sector are bleaker than even I supposed. Two of our clients in Waltham Forest could have provided material for Loach’s film. Both rely on housing benefit for their housing costs; both occupy single rooms in poor quality houses in multiple occupation; and both are being obliged to move because – quite rightly – the landlords are being forced to undertake major works to bring the properties up to standard. Both of these clients have strong and understandable reasons to remain in Waltham Forest. Mr M is 57 years old and unable to work because of a spinal condition – he has lived in the area for decades and, without any direct family for support, relies on his network of friends and acquaintances in the area to get by. Mr H works long and irregular hours in low paid employment in neighbouring Stratford. Neither can find a room in a house that they can afford, or indeed where the landlord will consider them – many landlords will disregard tenants on housing benefit immediately.

The phrase “Stuck between a rock and a hard place” doesn’t quite capture the desperation of both of these men’s situation. Both will have to make compromises on where they might move to – we’ll be working with them  to advise on where best to search and what scams to avoid; meanwhile, we’ll defend their legal right to stay in their homes until their landlords either end the tenancies properly – a right the landlords were trying to deny them – or offer them an acceptable out of court compensation settlement.

I take some cheer in the news that government are proposing a new national minimum space standard for a (bed)room as 6.5 m2 – you can fit a single bed in a room that size. I am concerned, though, that this is to become the default standard to accommodate a grown person and everything they own; this smacks of a new generation of dispossessed – and these are the folk who have got a home.

However, it has to be said that we can enforce minimum standards like these  to our hearts’ content, but low paid people can’t even afford a room of their own with shared facilities in the current market. The skyrocketing of rents and drop in the value of housing benefit in real terms means if you are poor and you need to rent a room, any room, regardless of decency – pack your bags, get on your bike, in Waltham Forest (and pretty much everywhere else) there’s no room at the Inn…

On that note, I do hope our Housing Minister and the Minister of State for Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions can take time out from their busy schedule to go to the cinema this week. Maybe they’ll realise just how serious this situation is.

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