My Housing Benefit is dependent on how much money I earn, and how much I pay out on nursery bills.
Each month, I go to the council office and wait in line to submit my payslip and my nursery bill. This usually takes at least half an hour, even when there is nobody waiting in front of me. Even first thing in the morning, they make you wait.
The council then look at my payslip and my nursery bill and do some terribly convoluted calculation before sending me a coded letter about how much Housing Benefit I am entitled to. This usually takes 2 weeks, so they backdate whatever amendment is made to the beginning of the month. So if they’ve been under-paying, they’ll put a lump sum into my rent account, and if they’ve been over-paying they’ll claw it back by cutting the amount I am entitled to for a few weeks until the difference is made up. When they send the letter, they usually send copies of every other letter they’ve sent during this financial year, so as the year goes on the envelopes get fatter and fatter.
Make sense? No? Good. That’s what they want. If you don’t understand exactly what they’re doing, you won’t notice when they cock it up. Which they will.
At the beginning of August, I had the usual payslip (I was salaried, so my wages really didn’t alter from month to month), but nursery was closed for two weeks, so my nursery bill basically halved. I took my paperwork into the office as usual, and as usual it took them two weeks to process it and come back to me.
My Housing Benefit was usually around £45 a week, but for August, because of this difference in my nursery bill, the benefit went down to around £3 a week. That’s fine; I don’t expect to be given benefit if I have the money to pay my rent. (I have no idea how the hell this will work next time though, when I’m self employed and don’t get paid holiday but also don’t have any childcare for 2 weeks)
What happened next though, is a bit of a farce.
At the beginning of September, I got another payslip (same as the others) and another nursery bill (almost identical to every month except August). I submitted them to the council office, and waited for my letter amending my benefit.
At the beginning of October, I’d still had no letter. I called the council and they told me it was probably just caught in a backlog, and that I should go ahead and submit my next lot of paperwork – which I dutifully did.
By last week, I’d still had no letter, and had been unable to get through to anyone regarding how much rent I should be paying – so I was just paying what I’d always paid, and figured it would all even out in the end. Wrong!
On Wednesday afternoon I had a phone call from someone who was clearly a little power crazed and perhaps not having the best day. She told me she was calling about my overdue rent account, at which point I said “oh good, perhaps you can help me sort out what’s going on.” She then proceeded to tell me there would be court proceedings against me, and they would be seeking to repossess my property due to unpaid rent. The backlog of what I’d assumed was being covered by my housing benefit had built up to an unacceptable level. She was cross with me because she’d had to call after I’d ignored the three letters she’d sent me. The fact not one letter had arrived at my property was neither here nor there.
After I’d picked myself up off the floor, I explained I’d been waiting to hear about changes to my Housing Benefit after my nursery bill had increased. Little Miss Diplomat looked at my benefit account and told me, in no uncertain terms that no, the account was all up to date, and I was only entitled to £3 a week in benefit and I had been sent a letter about it. There was no paperwork outstanding, and now I needed to pay what was owed.
We agreed that going forward I would pay extra rent to clear the backlog. She told me I would still get a letter telling me I was being taken to court, but to ignore it; so long as I paid the agreed amount each week she would take no further action. I asked her to put that part in writing!
I’ve had a fairly worrying weekend, wondering how the hell I would afford to basically pay double rent, and wondering why my whopping great nursery bill no longer entitled me to assistance with my rent when it had up until August.
The punchline landed on my door mat at lunch time yesterday: a benefit letter from the council. My Housing Benefit is now £45 a week, and they’ve made a payment this morning of £400+ into my rent account to catch up on their backlog. On the bottom of the letter, in bold type: “YOU MUST TELL US IMMEDIATELY IF YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE.” … so that we can wait 2 months before doing anything about it, and then scare the living shit out of you.
They also sent a separate letter, in a separate envelope, asking me to please bring in my October payslip and nursery bill.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is where your council tax goes. This is what you pay for. Useless bureaucracy, red tape, council department who work in the same building but do not communicate, power crazed PMT monsters and several pointless letters going to the same address in separate envelopes.
I am now very worried about what will happen when I am fully self employed. Nobody I have spoken to at the council has been able to tell me definitively what I need to do, how I submit my earnings etc. My income is likely to fluctuate more than it did when I was salaried.
And then there’s the issue of the nursery closing for another two weeks in December, which means another smaller invoice, another cut in housing benefit, another two months to get it increased again, another horrifying call threatening to kick me and my daughter out on the street.Here are some other posts I’ve written about benefits.