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articles > LHA Facts!
Article > Local Housing Allowance - Dont run a Mile!

Article kindly supplied by John Paul

www.thelhaexpert.com
Suite 1, Easington Business Centre,
Seaside Lane, Easington, Durham, SR8 3LJ

01915878132

 

Mention Local Housing Allowance and most landlords will run a mile, but it doesn’t have to be that way. LHA is an opportunity to increase cash flow and produce rental yields that we haven’t seen for years, all you have to do is embrace it.

Knowledge
As the saying goes “Knowledge is power” and with LHA it is certainly the case. Since it was nationally rolled out on April 7th 2008 there has been a distinct lack of information regarding how it works. Quite a lot of councils didn’t have an exact idea of how it worked when it first came out. Obviously this was a complete disaster for landlords hence the immediate hatred of LHA and a noticeable decline in the amount of DSS tenants in privately rented accommodation.

As time went by the councils seemed to get their act together and came up with procedures and safe guards, but the problem was that you could have 3 councils next to each other with 3 very different views on a particular topic, such as paying the landlords direct after the tenant being in 8 weeks arrears.

These are 3 varying opinions on how different authorities have interpreted the DWP guidance to us:-

1. After 8 weeks in arrears the Landlord can contact the council and get paid direct but not before the 8 weeks
2. After 8 weeks in arrears the Landlord could contact the council and get the claim put on suspend. The council would then contact the tenant to ascertain why they have not paid the Landlord and providing they admit none payment the council would pay the Landlords, this could take up to 11 weeks
3. After 4 week the landlord would contact the council and get the claim put on hold, while the council contacts the tenant to discuss the situation. If after 8 weeks the tenant hasn’t given a satisfactory reason, the council pays and backdates payment to the landlord.

Obviously the opinions vary greatly and one can understand the frustration of the landlord. However the councils can only act on how they interpret the guidance. There is no hard and fast rule and this is part of the problem, its all open to interpretation.

What I suggest is become familiar with the guidance. Speak to the councils and get their safeguard and policies so you know exactly what you are dealing with. They will vary from council to council so make sure you do it for every local authority.

 

 

Communication
This may sound obvious but you would be surprised to find how many landlords do not speak to the council or the tenant. Its very much a them and us scenario and that landlords have to be wary of the councils, this is certainly not the case. I agree sometimes you can get a council officer who is unhelpful but I’ve found that by being open, polite and friendly you can get a lot of information.

Before the tenant has moved in it imperative that you know what LHA rate the tenant will qualify for. There is no point thinking they will get 3 bed rate but suddenly find out they only get the single room allowance.

When your getting all the information from the tenant you should be asking for copies of their child benefit or tax credits. This will show how many children the tenants have and therefore has a major impact as to the rate they would qualify for. Its not uncommon for a tenant to say they have 2 children, but you find out at a later date, they only get the children on a weekend, and therefore would only qualify for the single rate.

Next check with the council or the LHA website (www.lha-direct.voa.gov.uk) to find out the amount of rent you will get for each rate. It has happened in the past where the council can get the amount wrong so in my experience its best to double check by visiting the website.

The website also has a facility which you can input the ages and sex’s of the children and it automatically lets you know which rate the tenant will get, a very useful resource.

You need to talk to the council at all stages of the application, you need to be aware of any additional information they require as this will hold up the application for weeks and maybe months.

The councils have to comply with the Data Protection Act and we used to regularly be told that the councils can not discuss the tenants claim with us. Now, we ask the tenant to sign an information disclosure form with the initial housing benefit application so the council will discuss any hold ups and what they need to speed up the claim.

When you talk to the local authorities most of them sympathise with landlords, they understand the difficult situation that we are in. After all its making more work for them. They have to deal with angry landlords, tenant evictions, appeals and disputes to decisions they have made.

In one local authority we deal with, appeals and disputes increased by over 240% and this was due to decisions to pay the tenant direct, as we all know local authorities are driven by facts and figure, this was a figure they would rather forget.

Organisation and Monitoring
Another obvious factor but equally overlooked. When putting a tenant into your property you need as much information as possible. Below is a list of information that we ask for from the tenant to help speed up the housing benefit claim. The more information you give the council then the quicker they can process it.

ID x 2
• Prof of benefits
• Proof of Child benefit (If applicable)
• Proof of income – Tax credits, maintenance, Part time work
• Last 2 months bank statement
• Proof that they have changed their address with DWP

There are obviously other information we require such as application forms and guarantors etc but the above list is only applicable to the housing benefit claim.

Keep copies of all information you handed in and also ask for receipts. Paper does go missing at councils despite them telling you otherwise. Lack of receipts could set your claim back months, you try and get information out of tenants once their in the house, its virtually impossible.

Once the council have all the information in they MUST have reached a decision within 14 days and informed you of their decision.

You can also expect an interim payment, payment on account, until the claim has been fully processed. The amount will be based on whatever information the local authority have about the tenant circumstances, therfore it is vitally important to have all the information that the local authority needs right from the start.

It is imperative that you chase the application as often as possible, otherwise it will inevitably find itself on the bottom of the pile. We chase all applications 2 or 3 times per week, to the point where some local authorities have fast tracked them to get us off the phone!

Keep a record of what information and when you submitted the application, keep a simple excel spreadsheet and check it regularly. Write down who you spoke to and what was said.

It may seem like extra work but by being organised and on top of things it can save you hundreds if not thousands of pounds. By being in constant contact with the local authorities if one slips through (it always happens) then you can contact the tenant prior to them receiving the money explaining you know they are getting paid direct and that you will come and collect the rent.

Just to prove that we are all human and make mistakes I will tell you about the first tenant I put in after LHA came into force. I completed the forms with the tenant and handed them in to the council. At that time it was just a simple tick box as to who the tenant wanted to get paid direct. I was not aware at the time and neither were the council in question that, evidence was required in order to pay myself direct and no the tenant.

I chased the council every couple of weeks and after about 9 weeks kicked up a fuss only to be told that the tenant had been getting paid from week 6 onwards. The tenant had received £1050. As you can imagine I was furious and demanded to know why the tenant had been paid direct and lack of evidence was the answer. I never made the same mistake again.

So to clarify, the three most important aspects that are needed when dealing with LHA are:-

Knowledge - of how LHA and your council work are vital. You need to understand the system and how to work its. Remember it will vary from council to council so cover all your bases

Communication – You need to be able to talk to both tenants and local authority. They are not out to get you, despite what you think. Build up a rapport with the benefit section, you will be surprised at how friendly they are and how much they are willing to help

Organisation and Monitoring – Make sure you have copies and receipts of everything you send to the council. Chase them 2 or 3 times a week and act quickly on anything that the council ask for.


All the Best

John Paul
johnpaul@thecastledenegroup.com


"The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes." Benjamin Disraeli

 
 
 

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