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HB stopped by DWP?

Timothy Seaside
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Housing services - Arun District Council

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I have a client who was working and receiving WTC, CTC, and HB. Apparently her HB was suspended in January at the request of the DWP because they were trying to speak to her but she wasn’t responding. HB apparently notified her that she needed to contact DWP. Two months later, DWP said she still hadn’t responded to them, and the HB claim was stopped as a result.

Just to be clear: she wasn’t getting any DWP benefits, but she has six children so would have been benefit capped if she wasn’t doing the work to entitle her to the WTC. Edit: she is still receiving WTC and CTC now.

I’ve never come across this before. It seems wrong to me that HB would end a claim because a claimant hadn’t been in touch with the DWP - especially where the claimant didn’t have any DWP benefits. Can somebody confirm for me if there is a provision which allows this, or have HB made a mistake?

Benny Fitzpatrick
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Welfare Rights Officer, Southway Housing Trust, Manchester

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Presumably she would be getting Child Benefit from DWP?

However, I am not aware of any provision to make non-contact with DWP a legitimate reason for HB to end entitlement. Provided the client still met eligibility for HB, there is no justification for closing the claim.

I can only wonder if there was any request to contact or provide information to HB included in the suspension letter? As a failure to respond to this could lead to closure of claim.

EJ
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Benefits advice line - Coventry City Council

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Could it have been something to do with the Compliance Team?  LA fraud officers were all TUPE’d to DWP several years ago.
Am wondering if a failure to respond could look like there was something to hide.
Is it also worth checking whether HB has been suspended or cancelled?
Elaine

Benny Fitzpatrick
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Compliance Team involvement could actually be a possibility, particularly if the conversation between DWP and LA raised valid questions over eligibility for HB (e.g. over income).

I suspect the exact wording of the suspension letter and stop-decision would be the key.

Timothy Seaside
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Isn’t Child Benefit HMRC?

I think the DWP contact was from an investigation officer, but there was no ongoing DWP benefit in payment. The HB was suspended in January and ended in March (I haven’t seen the letters that were sent out).

I was thinking that if DWP raised some concerns about fraud, then it would have been up to HB to request information themselves from the claimant, and then they could have acted on a failure to provide it. But what seems to have happened is that the HB claim was suspended and then ended at the DWP’s request because the claimant didn’t contact the DWP.

My first thought was that this could be to do with the benefit cap - as it is the DWP who coordinate benefit cap cases in HB. If they were concerned that she wasn’t working 16 hours, then that could be relevant, but there has been no change to her tax credits - and they’ve been renewed since the HB stopped. I suppose if the HB cap was worked out based on her WTC and CTC, then her earnings might wipe out what HB she had left, but that doesn’t make any sense at all.

I’m going to try to get more information; I was just hoping somebody could explain if there is a way for the DWP to require HB to end a claim - it’s not something I’ve ever come across.

Charles
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It looks like they have the power to do this.

See Reg 14(1)(b) and Reg 13(2)(c) here, and Reg 86(1) here.

Va1der
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Has there been any DWP benefits paid in the past, which might have prompted DWP to contact?

HB Anorak
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There is certainly a power to suspend and ultimately terminate HB as a kind of sanction for failure to cooperate with enquiries, without having firm substantive reasons to believe the claimant is no longer entitled: an initial “issue” arising, followed by unanswered enquiries, can lead to the claimant forfeiting the award irrespective of the substantive merits of the issue.  But the enquiries must relate to specific information - arguably saying “you need to speak to the DWP compliance officer” is insufficiently precise and could form the basis of an appeal against the decision terminating HB.

Regarding DWP’s involvement, yes this is very likely a compliance issue.  When working with local authorities I have often seen rather vague requests from DWP-based fraud officers to suspend HB payments, or even make a decision ending the HB award, with barely any details at all.  It usually concerns capital or an alleged working partner, but DWP give you so little to go on that you cannot really say much more than “What’s all this about you maybe having a bit of money then?”.  On a couple of occasions I have flatly refused to submit cases to Tribunal because we would have been laughed out of the place.

If you are looking to challenge this, I think the Council should be asked to specify precisely what evidence or information is required from the claimant, and they should be invited to revise their decision to terminate the HB award on the basis of imprecise info requests.  There are a few UT/Commissioners’ decisions on this with a general flavour that if you are going to stop someone’s HB for failure to provide evidence you need to comply with the procedure set out in the Regulations

Timothy Seaside
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Thanks Peter.

Just to clarify/confirm the point that EJ raised, and answer Va1der’s question, HB have confirmed that the DWP fraud investigator was working entirely on behalf of the LA, and DWP had no interest themselves. Apparently there was a suggestion that my client was living with somebody.

I am familiar with Reg 14 of the D&A Regs, and my initial unease was around the question of how the DWP could effectively be the “relevant authority”. But to be honest, I was uneasy about something else that I couldn’t put my finger on, and it really became clear on reading Peter’s answer; it is that my client doesn’t seem to have actually been asked to provide any specific information. As far as I understand it at the moment, the DWP officer tried to contact my client and couldn’t, so he advised HB to suspend. HB suspended and wrote out to say my client needed to contact the DWP, but (I think) they didn’t actually ask for any information. After a month or two, my client had not contacted the DWP, so the DWP closed their investigation and advised the LA to terminate the award. But if they didn’t ask for any information then my client can’t have failed to comply with the information requirement (or in the alternative explain why it was impossible to comply).

I think I’ll request some information myself.

Timothy Seaside
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Housing services - Arun District Council

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I have seen the letters now.

The suspension letter confirms that suspension was on the basis of Reg 11 of D&A Regs. It says they suspended HB because my client failed to attend a meeting with the DWP or to respond to their calls. It says she needs to contact the DWP. It then goes on to explain how she can provide her documents, although it doesn’t request any.

The termination letter says the award was cancelled because my client didn’t make contact with the DWP. It says they could reassess the claim if she provided “everything listed above” within a month - although the only thing listed is to contact the DWP.

So we’re going ahead with the reconsideration request.

I’m looking at CH/2727/2008, and CH/2995/2006, do you know of any other cases which address the specific point about what constitutes a request for information? I note that Commissionre Rowland says “However, a refusal to allow a local government officer to visit premises is not a ground for suspending payment under regulation 13 or terminating entitlement under regulation 14.  Only a failure to respond to a specific request for information justifies suspension or termination under those provisions provision.” at para 35 in CH/2995/2006 - which is pretty helpful, so maybe I’m being greedy asking for more?

HB Anorak
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The ones you have found are closest to the issue in this particular case.  There are a few others concerned with inchoate decisions, obfuscation of the process by use of non-statutory terms like “cancel” and failure to allow enough time for a response.  In this particular case, the HB section has at least identified the mechanism it purports to rely on.  But for wider background reading if you have the time, there are CH/2555/2007, CH/3736/2006 and CH/2459/2008.

Timothy Seaside
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Housing services - Arun District Council

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Thanks Peter. I’ll find some time to look at those!

Stainsby
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Welfare rights adviser - Plumstead Community Law Centre

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It looks to me that although the LA used their power to suspend under D&A Reg 11, they must still comply with Reg 13 in order to have any power to terminate under Reg 14

Reg 13(3) provides

(3) The relevant authority shall notify any person to whom paragraph (2) refers of
the requirements of this regulation.

Reg 13(2) in so far as is relevant here provides

(2) For the purposes of section 5(1) in so far as it applies to housing benefit and
section 6(1) of the Administration Act the prescribed persons are–
(a) a person in respect of whom payment of benefit or a reduction has been
suspended under regulation 11(2)(a);

In other words, a person whose HB has been suspended must be notified of the Requirements of Regulation 13.

The requirements in question are in Regulation 13(4)

4) A person to whom paragraph (2) refers must–
(a) furnish the information or evidence needed within a period of–
(i) one month beginning with the date on which the notification under
paragraph (3) was sent to him; or
(ii) such longer period as the relevant authority considers necessary in order
to enable him to comply with the requirement; or
(b) satisfy the relevant authority within the period provided for in paragraph
(4)(a) that–
(i) the information or evidence so required does not exist; or
(ii) it is not possible for him to obtain the information or evidence so required.

There is nothing in HB Regulation 86 which places any duty on the claimant to provide evidence in person - cf Reg 8(2) of the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987 SI 1987 no 1968 as amended;  Reg 8 provides:

(2) Every person who makes a claim for benefit (other than a jobseeker’s
allowance) shall attend at such office or place and on such days and at such times as
the Secretary of State or the Board may direct, for the purpose of furnishing
certificates, documents, information and evidence under regulation 7, if reasonably
so required by the Secretary of State or the Board .

R v Liverpool City Council ex p Johnson (No2) 1995 COD 200 QBD remains good law on this point, but I would not take that too far in view of the outcome of CH/4390/2003 where the claimant who had refused to allow a home visit lost her case.  Having said that Mr Commissioner Rowland observed in CH/2995/2006, “a refusal to allow a local government officer to visit premises is not a ground for suspending payment under regulation 13 or terminating entitlement under regulation 14” (at paragraph 35). 

I do think you have a strong case here to argue that the Council has no power to terminate under D&A Reg 14 because it itself not complied with Reg 13.

There are a number of other decisions you could look at which may be helpful e.g SS v North East Lincolnshire Council (HB) [2011] UKUT 300 (AAC), VW –v- London Borough of Hackney (HB) [2014] UKUT 0277 (AAC) , CH/1510/2015

 

 

[ Edited: 28 Sep 2020 at 06:18 pm by Stainsby ]

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Timothy Seaside
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Housing services - Arun District Council

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Thank you very much for this Stainsby. The benefits department has already accepted that the decision was flawed, and my client is currently in the process of providing further information to enable the benefit to be reinstated.

Meanwhile I have a similar case which was looking less promising at first because the claimant was asked for specific information about their income from work after a certain date. However, the claimant didn’t have a job at that time, and my instinct was that the letter ought to have explained what to do if the information didn’t exist. Then I found a very helpful post on HBInfo from almost exactly ten years ago in which a “Stainsby” helpfully pointed at caselaw to confirm how important it is that a Reg 13(3) notification covers Reg 13(4)(a) time limits, as well as Reg 13(4)(b) alternatives. I’m currently making submissions relying heavily on the decision in AA v Leicester CC [2009] UKUT 86 (AAC). So thanks to that Stainsby too, whether it’s just a younger iteration of the same, or a namesake.

Stainsby
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Welfare rights adviser - Plumstead Community Law Centre

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The “Hbinfo Stainsby” and the “Rightsnet Stainsby” are one and the same just so you know!!

None of my posts are copyright of course but if my work is still being read after 10 years its a shame that I could not collect royalties like Noddy Holder does every Xmas!