Laura Sharman 09 January 2020

Housing benefit errors pushing families into homelessness, ombudsman warns

Families are facing the prospect of becoming homeless due to the way some councils are handling housing benefit appeals, the ombudsman has warned today.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found poor practices at some councils leading to confusion and uncertainty for families.

It warned that in the more extreme cases, families have even become homeless because of errors with housing benefit payments.

The report highlighted examples of councils preventing families from challenging decisions about their housing benefit entitlement or trying to recover overpaid money before appeals have even been considered.

‘The cases we highlight in this report show the very real impact of what can happen when councils do not deliver housing benefit properly. Some of our most vulnerable families are refused a fair hearing by having their rights to appeal their council’s decision taken away,’ said Nigel Ellis, chief executive at the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said.

‘Although Universal Credit is being rolled out across the country, this is not happening as quickly as first anticipated; councils still need to ensure they administer housing benefits properly until the new system is in place in their area.’

In reponse, chair of the LGA’s Resources Board, Cllr Richard Watts, said: 'Councils and the Department for Work and Pensions have worked closely over recent years to reduce fraud and error. Councils also work hard to provide a range of support and advice to vulnerable households, in particular those affected by welfare reform.

'The funding that councils receive from government to administer housing benefit falls short of the true costs of administration. Councils have also faced considerable and ongoing pressures and uncertainty due to welfare reforms and changes to the timescales for implementing Universal Credit, which have stretched councils’ revenues and benefits services.'

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