I want to claim Housing Benefit because I am on a low income/have children or vulnerable adults in the house for whom I am responsible/am disabled or otherwise entitled to claim. I get a form from the Council office, and fill it in as best I can, then return it, along with copies of ID, payslips for the last few months, bank statements so they can see I’m not secretly rich.
I don’t want to get behind on my rent, so I struggle to continue paying the full amount each week until my claim is assessed. This takes a month.
My claim is assessed and they find that I am entitled to £30 per week to help with my rent. They back-date this to the date of my claim, and pay a lump sum into my rent account. They send a letter, written in code with a lot of figures and little explanation. Perhaps I am dyslexic, or not good at maths, or just not someone who works at the council; I have little idea what this letter is telling me. Eventually someone who’s been claiming Housing Benefit for a while shows me the line I need to look at, to tell me what my entitlement is.
Perhaps, for whatever reason, my income is not at a steady amount each month. So each month, I must take my payslip into the Council office for my claim to be re-assessed. Two weeks later, I get another letter telling my new entitlement. If they have been underpaying in the two weeks since I submitted my payslip, they will put a lump sum into my rent account to cover this. If they have been overpaying in those two weeks, they will take this amount off the weekly amount they will pay.
So although they have assessed my claim and found that I cannot afford to be paying more than X amount per week on my rent, because they overpaid in the time it took them to find this out, I am actually liable to pay X amount plus their claw-back of the overpayment.
Sometimes a mistake is made, and I get a letter out of the blue saying I have been overpaid, and my Benefit payment will go down by £15 a week until the overpayment has been clawed back. I now have to find another £15 a week to pay for something that was not my fault or in any way under my control.
One day I call up Tax Credits to do my annual renewal. We get bogged down in the calculations of what I expect to earn in the next tax year, and the call handler forgets to tick whatever box it is that says I’ve renewed my claim. I know nothing about this until, 3 weeks later, my Tax Credits do not arrive in my bank account as expected. I call up and resolve the issue; my Tax Credits are reinstated the following week. The Housing Benefit computers have access to the Tax Credits database, though. In a previously unheard of feat of efficiency, they have looked at the Tax Credits system during the time that it thought I was not eligible for a claim. If I am not entitled to Tax Credits, I am not entitled to Housing Benefit. I receive a letter telling me I am not entitled to any further payments; my claim has been closed; I owe them £200 for overpayments they made in error, which must be paid within a month. It takes a month to resolve this issue with the Council office, during which time I receive chaser letters for the £200, telling me I may be evicted from my home if I do not pay.
Eventually, I lose my job and end up on Jobseeker’s Allowance. I tell the Council office, and after a few weeks (during which time I have still been paying my rent) I get a letter to say my rent is now completely covered by Housing Benefit. Phew! No more worrying about how much rent to pay each week.
I contact the Rent office to ask for a statement of my account, so that I can check I definitely don’t owe any rent from the period I was liable to pay on. It takes two weeks for them to email me a screen print which appears to show I am £150 in credit. I ask if it’s possible to get a refund; they respond saying they will send a cheque. The cheque does not arrive.