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obligations on LA to compensate where poor advice or lack of advice by them led to overpayment of Housing Benefit

RichardP
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Citizens Advice Cardiff and Vale

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obligations on LA to compensate where poor advice or lack of advice by them led to overpayment of Housing Benefit

I know this is a long post - but I couldnt think of anything else to try other than seeing if anyone else has had a similar case:

I am considering a complaint against the local authority – but would not do so unless I felt that if the LA considered the grounds of complaint valid - or were forced to do so by the ombudsman - they will be obliged to pay some sort of compensation.
• I’m a benefits caseworker and picked up the case from one of our debt caseworkers who had started a Mandatory Reconsideration for the Housing Benefit/CTR overpayment.
• The basic scenario is the client had a foster child living with her and was getting fostering allowance. The child turned 18 and remained with my client under the Adult Service Placement.
• Because this change of circumstances was not reported to the Housing Benefit department - this resulted in a substantial overpayment of housing benefit and council tax reduction.
• Because both the fostering and adult placement were arranged by Vale Council my client did not report a change of circumstances as she thought that this would be already known about because it was all under the auspices of Vale Council
• her training under adult services placement did not include all anything about her obligations under housing benefit
• Also no one in the council (Social Services) told her that this was a relevant change of circumstances that she needed to report and would affect her housing benefit
• I have ruled out making an appeal as the regulations and case law are clear that any change of circumstances need to be reported to the relevant office overseeing the relevant benefit.
• I know I could probably research this via freedom of information requests to the Council – but this could get very time consuming

if anyone has had any remotely similar experiences I will be grateful for any thoughts.
1. Where a foster child stays with the family but becomes 18 and therefore moves to adult services - is there a duty or social services to inform the client that they need to report a relevant change of circumstances to housing benefit ?
2. If so and it can be proved that they were negligent in not informing my client of her responsibilities – would they have any responsibility of compensating my client for a resulting overpayment of benefits ?
3. Lastly I’m considering - within the council – who would be the target of the complaint: Foster Services, The Social Worker overseeing the child or Adult Services ?

Any thoughts gratefully accepted

AlexJ
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Trafford Welfare Rights

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If you have a look in CPAG, page 1242, you’ll note that the definition of ‘official error’ is broad enough to include an ‘act or omission’ by ‘an officer of the local authority’; in other words, the error doesn’t have to necessarily be someone directly responsible for HB in the LA.  Possibly worth looking into whether this gives you any scope for disputing the HB decision itself? Just a thought. If you follow the footnotes in CPAG or read the commentary in Sweet & Maxwell, there may be some case law on scenarios such as this.

Cheers

Alex

Mike Hughes
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Senior welfare rights officer - Salford City Council Welfare Rights Service

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I agree with Alex. Official error may well encompass this and thus the thing is well worth a challenge to wipe out recoverability.

RichardP
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Citizens Advice Cardiff and Vale

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Thanks both for your quick replies - I think it may be worth an appeal after all - and much easier than an official complaint route

Elliot Kent
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Shelter

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Just leaving official error aside for a moment, you aren’t really asking for ‘compensation’ in the sense of funds which need to be paid out of someone’s budget. You are just asking for a debt to be written off which is rather more palatable. The fact that apparently the debt may not have arisen at all but for the council’s officers not doing something which they reasonably ought to have done seems like a pretty reasonable basis to request a discretionary write off.

Helen Rogers
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Welfare rights officer - Stockport MBC

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What exactly was the change of circumstances that wasn’t reported?
Was it the young person turning 18?
If HB were already aware of the young person’s date of birth then there is no failure to report.
Or was it a change in income?

Prisca
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benefits section (training & accuracy) Bristol city council

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what was the reason /cause of the overpayment and what period did it relate yo?
Was it the HB section incorrectly included the foster child as a member of the household?

You say the customer didn’t advise about a change in circs - what was that change - the definition of official error includes that the customer has not materially contributed to the overpayment - so if there was change in circs AND the customer could reasonably expect would alter her benefit entitlement AND she didnt report it then its unlikely the o/p will be classed as LA error
if its not official/LA error then the default position is that the o/p is recoverable
but without knowing the reasons/cause of the overpayment its difficult to advise whether is worth asking for the overpayment not to be recovered (discretionary write off) /whether it looks like offical error