Housing Benefit and Possession Claims Based on Rent Arrears
Currently, there is no reason for a private landlord to consider the tenant’s housing benefit status when starting a claim for arrears of rent. Unlike a social landlord, he is not required to assist the tenant in making a benefit claim and is not bound by the Supreme Court decision in LB Hounslow v Powell and so is not required to consider the Article 8 implications of pursuing a possession action. All this may be about to change however.
One of the very many amendments that have been proposed for the Localism Bill by the House of Lords is one which will have the effect of amending section 7 of the Housing Act 1988 by inserting a new subsection 6A. Amendment 178A requires that the Court changes its consideration where ground 8 of Schedule 2 has been established. At the moment Ground 8 of Schedule II is a mandatory ground for possession which is made out when the rent is in two months arrears (for monthly payment) or 8 weeks arrears (for weekly payments). If the ground is made out the Court must normally grant possession without further consideration.
The new subsection 6A will prevent the Court from simply granting possession where some or all of the rent is in arrears as a result of “delay or failure” in housing benefit payments. In these cases the Court is required to consider whether it is reasonable to grant possession.
In short, the change has the effect of converting ground 8 from a mandatory to a discretionary ground where the arrears result from a problem with the tenant’s housing benefit entitlement.
Naturally, there is no certainty that this amendment will actually make it into the final bill. However, it would address the problem that many tenant support organisations have complained of whereby tenants are evicted due to failures of local authority benefits offices. However, private landlords will be frustrated that they should have to bear the economic brunt of these failures and will probably take the view that the real answer is for benefits offices to process claims more rapidly.