Rent Officer Handbook: Housing Benefit referral

Housing Benefit referral: application

Applications to the Rent Officer from Local Authorities for determinations of rent in respect of claims for Housing Benefit.

Additional referral information

(v1 2009)

When the Rent Officer requires information not provided on the application.

We aim to deal with every Housing Benefit referral as quickly and efficiently as possible. In doing so we try to avoid delays. We will process referrals as far as possible using the information we have and should not return a referral, PTD application, or redetermination request to the local authority unless we have to. However there will be occasions when we will need to get more information from the local authority before making determinations. When this is necessary you should:

  • use the telephone
  • note the name of the person you are speaking to
  • get the information you need; and
  • ask the person to confirm the information by fax or e-mail

If the information you have been given over the phone is not confirmed in writing you should:

  • process the case based on the information you have
  • note in the ‘remarks box’ that we have based the determination partly on information obtained by telephone; but
  • if the missing information is necessary to make a determination, do not make determinations until you have written confirmation; to avoid delaying the case you may have to chase your contact

To see what information is:

  • essential to accept a referral
  • necessary to make determinations
  • desirable to have to make determinations

See the ‘Standard application form’ and ‘Essential information’ pages.

  • Referral - essential information
  • Referral - standard form

Business and residential tenancies

(v1 2009)

How Rent Officers deal with applications where the tenancy may include a business letting.

We should accept Housing Benefit referrals for mixed business and residential tenancies. The local authority should identify on the referral that the tenancy is of mixed business and residential premises.

There are a number of instances when a mixed tenancy has an element that can easily be defined as residential accommodation (in other words, the dwelling part), for example:

  • A flat over a shop, let as part of a business tenancy; or
  • A farm-house let with a farm

Before referring these cases, the local authority must apportion the amount it considers is appropriate for the residential part of the premises. The local authority only refers to the Rent Officer the amount of rent for the residential part. The Rent Officer has no right, or need, to know the total rent payable under the tenancy for the combined business and residential premises.

If business premises are being used completely for residential purposes, the local authority would probably refer the whole rent. If they thought that the rent was higher because of the right to use the premises for business purposes they may choose to make a reduction before referring the rent. This is a matter for the local authority, not the VOA, to decide.

Rent Officers must never carry out apportionments of the rent applicable to the residential premises. They would be effectively deciding what amount of rent is referred to them.

The Rent Officer deals with mixed business and residential tenancy referrals like any other. When the VOA receive the referral, the Rent Officer must first calculate the value of any ineligible services (other than meals) and deduct this amount from the referred rent to produce the ‘rent payable under the tenancy’. The Rent Officer applies the various tests to this reduced figure in making determinations.

Rent Officers must use evidence of the nearest comparable type of residential premises but may need to make adjustments to take account of the joint user element, for example, difficult access or toilets also being used by occupiers of the business premises. The Rent Officer makes the determinations net of all ineligible charges (other than meals) including water and sewerage charges.

The Rent Officer never values the business part of the premises.

  • Services - ineligible
  • Joint tenancies

Change of circumstances

(v.1.1 2011)

When a change to the terms of the tenancy other than rent may trigger a fresh application.

Valuation teams can deal with a referral that is made within the 52 weeks of a previous referral for that dwelling if one of the following change of circumstances has occurred –

  • A change in the number of occupiers
  • A substantial change in the condition of the premises
  • A substantial change in the terms of the tenancy
  • An increase in the rent under the contractual terms (where no lower rent was previously determined)
  • Where a Size and rent Determination was previously made with a “notional” rent
  • A child becomes 10 or

  • A young person becomes 16
  • There is a change in the composition of the household
  • A young individual becomes the claimant and there is no existing single room rent

“Contractual rent increases” are the subject of a separate handbook page. Referral inputting staff at NSO carry out an initial 52 week check and will accept a referral within 52 weeks where the Local Authority indicate that there is a contractual rent increase (in accordance with terms of the existing tenancy agreement). Rent Officers can then entertain such referrals, but only if we have not determined a significantly high rent or a notional rent figure at the time of the last referral.

It should be noted that whenever the Rent Officer makes a determination of Claim Related Rent on a case where the size criteria are exceeded, that determination implicitly involves a determination of size and rent. This means that if in the previous referral the size criteria were exceeded, we must reject jurisdiction under the “contractual rent increase within 52 weeks” rule, and only accept a new referral after the elapse of 52 weeks from the original determination, or if there is another qualifying change of circumstances.

A “change in the composition of the household” occurs when the household composition falls into different categories of the size criteria than previously. This is most likely to happen when one claimant/tenant moves out and someone else moves in. The rule applies even if the change in composition doesn’t alter the number of rooms the household will be assessed on.

Example

A single mother with two daughters, aged 12 and 8, claims benefit in a three bedroom house with one living room. Her entitlement under the size criteria is a two bedrooms and one living room (categories (b) and (c) of the size criteria). If she moves out and another single mother with a son and a daughter, aged 3 and 5, moves in and claims benefit the local authority should re-refer.

Although the room entitlement is still the same (two bedrooms and one living room) the family is now classed under different categories in the size criteria (categories (b) and (d)).

The decision as to what is a valid change of circumstances is the responsibility of the referring Local Authority. Any referrals received stating “change of circumstance” should be dealt with at face value accepting that the LA have made the correct decision to refer.

  • Determinations – size notional
  • Size criteria
  • Contractual rent increases
  • Fifty two week rule

Contractual rent increase

(v1 2011)

Where the tenancy agreement allows for a rent to be increased which may trigger a fresh application.

Local Authorities are required to refer cases which are exempt from Local Housing Allowances (by virtue of being associated with claims for benefit predating the introduction of LHA, or for any other reason) as soon as is possible, from the expiry of the previous determination which is usually after 52 weeks from the date of the previous referral.

However one of the exceptions to this 52 week embargo period is where there is a previously agreed rent increase, which was in place at the commencement of the rent agreement contract. It does not mean an increase in rent due to the commencement of a new agreement or contract.

A contractual rent increase means an increase in the rent under the contractual terms, but this only represents an exception to the 52 week embargo period, and hence that we may accept a referral within 52 weeks of the previous referral, where no lower rent was previously determined.

The 52 week embargo period prevents us from accepting a Housing Benefit referral if it is made within 52 weeks of the last one for that property, unless there have been qualifying changes, one of which is an increase of rent under the terms of the original tenancy agreement.

Referral inputting staff at NSO carry out an initial 52 week check and will accept a referral within 52 weeks where the Local Authority indicate that there is a contractual rent increase (in accordance with terms of the existing tenancy agreement). Rent Officers can then entertain such referrals, but only if we have not determined a significantly high rent or a notional rent figure at the time of the last referral.

It should be noted that whenever the Rent Officer makes a determination of Claim Related Rent on a case where the size criteria are exceeded, that determination implicitly involves a determination of size and rent. This means that if in the previous referral the size criteria were exceeded, we must reject jurisdiction under the “contractual rent increase within 52 weeks” rule, and only accept a new referral after the elapse of 52 weeks from the original determination, or if there is another qualifying change of circumstances.

So not only when the Rent Officer has given a notional rent figure which is lower than the referred rent, but even if the notional rent ascertained by the Rent Officer is equal to or higher than the referred rent and the figure is therefore not supplied to the Local Authority, another referral must not be accepted within 52 weeks in the event that the rent is increased under the terms of the tenancy agreement.

In summary, if the size criteria were exceeded last time, the contractual rent increase referral must be rejected within 52 weeks. Whereas only if the size criteria were not exceeded and we gave no significantly high rent or notional rent determination last time, then the contractual rent increase referral within 52 weeks must be accepted.

  • Fifty two week rule
  • Change of circumstances – Housing Benefit

Correcting errors

(v1 2009)

How errors made in respect of such determinations are dealt with.

This correcting errors process may be used at any time, even where subsequent determinations have been made for the same circumstances. However, this procedure should not be used to correct mistakes found before the Rent Officer determination is sent to the local authority – in this situation the decision can simply be amended on VICTER.

It is important to remember that the errors procedures allow VOA to amend a decision at anytime

Type of error Procedure for correction Remarks
Error in referral discovered by local authority concerning: Size of dwelling, Number of occupants, Composition of household, Terms of tenancy Local authority to apply for a substitute determination stating the nature of the error.  
Error in referral discovered by Rent Officer concerning: Size of dwelling, Number of occupants, Composition of household, Terms of tenancy Rent Officer informs local authority and asks them to make a substitute referral. If error relates to the number of occupiers / composition of the household the RO/RDO should provide a determination on the basis of the details on the referral, but note any concerns / apparent anomalies in remarks.
Error in Rent Officer determination discovered by local authority Local authority notifies RO of error. RO checks to see if error has been made, and provides automatic substitute determination if appropriate.* Applies to errors in number of rooms/LRR (where LRR/SRR is lower than CRR). NOT errors of professional judgement (i.e. a second opinion about a valuation) or errors relating to things like central heating, furniture, parking or a garage for example.
Error in Rent Officer determination discovered by Rent Officer RO notifies local authority of error, and provides automatic substitute determination if appropriate. * Applies to errors in number of rooms/LRR (where LRR/SRR is lower than CRR). NOT errors of professional judgement (i.e. a second opinion about a valuation) or errors relating to things like central heating, furniture, parking or a garage for example.

Notes

  • For EIS cases (or where the local authority has not agreed to the automatic substitute procedure) the local authority must still send a substitute referral to the Rent Officer

In all cases the original (wrong) paperwork should be kept on file for the normal period to substantiate any later queries.

Substitute determinations must be valued at the same ‘relevant time’ as the original determination.

Substitute determinations can be redetermined. Errors in redeterminations are treated in the same way as errors in RO determinations.

  • Errors
  • Redeterminations

Delayed Referrals

(v.1 2011)

Where there has been a significant time delay in the Local Authority making the application to the Rent Officer.

Please note that the service of providing determinations for delayed referrals was only a temporary arrangement and has now been withdrawn. Rent Officers no longer provide determinations at anything other than the relevant time.

Local authorities submit subsidy claims to Department of Work and Pensions providing details of actual amounts of benefit they have paid in the financial year, and they do this by 31 May in the following financial year. Local authorities are able to include in their final claim any case that has been referred to the Rent Officer by the time this claim is submitted. A delayed referral used to be one that related to a claim made in that previous financial year but which, for whatever reason, had not been referred to the Rent Officer by the 31 May, and which therefore requested the determination to be made by the Rent Officer as at a date backdated from the relevant time. For a temporary period DWP was content for the RO to provide this non-statutory service for the LAs, but it is no longer acceptable practice for LAs to request it, nor for the RO to provide it.

“Relevant time”

The Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order requires Rent Officers to make all their determinations “at the relevant time”. Relevant time is defined as:

“the time the application for the determination is made or, if earlier, the tenancy ends”.

This means that valuations should be made as at the date of the referral, not the date of the claim unless the tenancy has already ended, in which case, the valuation is made as at the end of the tenancy. Local authorities must tell the Rent Officer if a tenancy has already ended and, if it has, when it ended (especially if they are making the referral a considerable time after the end of the tenancy).

Please note that the relevant time for substitute referrals and redeterminations is the relevant time of the original referral to which they relate.

All valid referrals received should attract a determination as at the relevant time and no other date, even if the Local Authority is asking for a determination as at some other previous date.

Delayed referrals used to be dealt with in the informal advice section of VICTER as they were non-statutory determinations. All referrals are now dealt with in the mainstream workload area of VICTER and are all statutory determinations made under the Order.

  • Informal advice
  • Substitute referrals
  • Redeterminations
  • Relevant time

Exemptions from referrals

(v1.1 2011)

Lettings which should not be referred to the Rent Officer under the Housing Benefit regulations.

Local Authorities continue to refer HB claims to the Rent Officer for individual determinations. However, some types of claim are exempt, namely:

  • Rent rebate cases
  • Rent Act protected tenancies
  • Former Local Authority (or New Town) housing stock
  • Housing Association lettings
  • Shared ownership cases
  • Delayed referrals
  • HB claims made on or after 8 April 2008 (LHA cases)
  • Claims referred within 52 weeks
  • Gypsy site rents where the landlord is a Local Authority
  • Ground rents
  • Student lettings

Each of these exemptions is explained below.

Rent rebate cases

The payment of HB to the tenants of local authorities (council tenants) is administered separately and is exempt from referral to the Rent Officer.

Rent Act protected tenancies

Any regulated tenancy that is protected by the Rent Act 1977 or the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 is already subject to a form of rent control and is therefore exempt from (further) referral to the Rent Officer. Following an application by the parties to these tenancies the Rent Officer may already have determined a fair rent.

Former Local Authority (or New Town) housing stock

Lettings of former local authority or new town housing stock to a new owner, such as a housing association should not be referred unless:

  • since the date of transfer there has been a rent increase which the local authority says in the referral is unreasonably expensive; or
  • for transfers that took place before 7th October 2002, the local authority says in the referral that the accommodation is unreasonably large

In other words, former local authority housing stock should not be referred to the Rent Officer unless the referring local authority says that the referred rent is too high or (in the case of a property transferred before 7th October 2002) that the accommodation is too large.

Example 1

Scenario: The local authority refers a tenancy of former local authority accommodation on the basis that the rent is too high.

Result: The Rent Officer accepts the referral.

Example 2

Scenario: The local authority refers a tenancy of former local authority accommodation that was subject to a stock transfer on 1st April 2002 on the basis that the accommodation is too large.

Result: The Rent Officer accepts the referral.

Example 3

Scenario: The local authority refers a tenancy of former local authority accommodation that was subject to a stock transfer on 1st April 2003 on the basis that the accommodation is too large.

Result: The Rent Officer rejects the referral.

Example 4

Scenario: The local authority refers a tenancy of former local authority accommodation that was subject to a stock transfer on 1st April 2003 on the basis that (i) the rent is too high; and (ii) the accommodation is too large.

Result: The Rent Officer accepts the referral.

Housing Association lettings

Lettings where the landlord is a registered housing association or registered social landlord should not be referred unless the local authority states in the referral that the property is:

  • unreasonably expensive; and/or
  • unreasonably large

Shared ownership cases

These have been excluded since the 1st October 2007.

Delayed referrals

A local authority is required to refer a qualifying claim for Housing Benefit to the Rent Officer by 31st May after the end of the financial year in which the claim is made in order to recover payment from DWP. A referral made after this date is known as a delayed referral. In the past we have dealt with these referrals but it is no longer current practice to accept delayed referrals. Any delayed referrals received must be returned to the Local Authority.

All referrals are dealt with in the same way by the Rent Officer, with the determination being made as at the relevant time, which is the date the LA made the referral, or the date the tenancy ended if earlier. The Rent Officer therefore does not distinguish between delayed referrals and any other referrals. The important point is that the Rent Officer may not back date the determination.

HB claims made on or after 8 April 2008

As a general rule, ordinary residential lettings in respect of which a Housing Benefit claim was made on or after 8 April 2008 should not be referred by local authorities to the Rent Officer. Instead, those claims have their maximum level of housing benefit established under the Local Housing Allowance scheme.

However, some lettings in respect of which a Housing Benefit claim was made on or after 8th April 2008 are still referred to the Rent Officer. These include:

  • Claims in relation to a mooring or the letting of a house boat / other vessel used as a dwelling
  • Claims in relation to a caravan site rent or the letting of a caravan / mobile home
  • Where the landlord is a registered social landlord or housing association
  • Any claim including an element of board and attendance in respect of which the Rent Officer has to determine whether a substantial part of the rent is in relation to that board and attendance element
  • Claims in relation to a hostel. For this purpose, hostel means non self-contained residential accommodation where either board or food preparation facilities are provided and where (i) the landlord is or the premises are managed by a registered housing association, (ii) the premises are operated on a non commercial basis with the benefit of government, agency or local authority funding; or (iii) the premises are managed by a voluntary organisation or charity and provides care, support or supervision

Claims referred within 52 weeks

Ordinarily, a claim will be re-referred to the Rent Officer 52 weeks after the previous referral. The general rule is that a local authority should not refer a claim until 52 weeks have elapsed. However, a local authority may make a referral where there has been a relevant change in circumstances, such as:

  • There has been a change in the number of occupiers (as potentially, this will have an effect on the size entitlement)
  • A child in the claimant’s household has reached the age of 10 or 16 (as again potentially, this will have an effect on the size entitlement)
  • There has been a change in the composition of the household, for example, where two adults are no longer a couple (as again potentially, this will have an effect on the size entitlement)
  • There has been a substantial change in the condition of the property
  • There has been a substantial change in the terms of the letting agreement (other than rent), for example, the landlord could adopt or relinquish responsibility for internal decorations
  • There has been a contractual increase in the rent. However, the Rent Officer cannot accept a referral on the basis of a contractual rent increase if in relation to the previous referral the Rent Officer made any of the following, namely (i) a significantly high determination, (ii) a size notional determination, or (iii) an exceptionally high determination. It should be noted that if the size criteria were exceeded when the previous determination was made, then even if the size notional was not applicable, the Rent Officer is deemed to have made a determination under the size notional provisions, so a contractual rent increase referral must not be entertained

It is important to bear in mind what the referring local authority should know and what it cannot know. A local authority, not the Rent Officer, will be advised by the claimant about any relevant change in circumstances. Accordingly, the Rent Officer should accept the basis of a referral within 52 weeks on face value and not seek to look behind it. However, a local authority may not have noted whether a significantly high, size notional or exceptionally high determination was previously made.

In the event that a referral based on a contractual rent increase is received within 52 weeks of the last referral, the Rent Officer should accept that there has been a qualifying change in circumstances, but must then check to see whether any of the above ‘disqualifying’ determinations have been made.

Example 1

Scenario: A claim is referred by a local authority within 52 weeks of the last referral on the basis that a child of the family has reached 10 years of age. The family composition is one adult and two children, one girl and one boy, who at the date of the last referral were 9 and 7 years of age respectively. The family occupy a house that has three bedrooms and one living room. The determination made as a result of the last referral contained a size notional determination as the claimant was only entitled to accommodation that had two bedrooms and one living room.

Result: The new referral should be accepted. The girl, having turned 10, is now entitled to a separate bedroom from her brother and the family is no longer over accommodated.

Example 2

Scenario: A claim is referred by a local authority within 52 weeks of the last referral on the basis that new windows have been fitted, the damp proof course has been renewed and central heating has been installed. The determination made as a result of the last referral contained a significantly high determination as the referred rent, while being perfectly reasonable for the type and size of property in the vicinity, was far too high due to the condition of the accommodation which was drafty, damp and cold.

Result: The new referral should be accepted. The condition of the accommodation having improved greatly, a significantly high determination might not now be made.

Example 3

Scenario: A claim is referred by a local authority within 52 weeks of the last referral on the basis that there has been a contractual rent increase. The determination made as a result of the last referral contained a size notional determination.

Result: The new referral should be declined.

Gypsy site rents where the landlord is a Local Authority

Since April 2009 gypsy site rents where the landlord is a Local Authority or County Council are excluded tenancies. This means that they are excluded from the provisions of referral to the Rent Officer in exactly the same way as Housing Association tenancies are excluded. Only where the landlord is a third party, such as the Gypsy Council or a private individual, may a referral be accepted and dealt with.

Ground rents

Ground rents are not eligible for Housing Benefit and should therefore never be referred to the Rent Officer. These should not be confused with ground/site rents for caravans/mobile homes which should be referred to the Rent Officer.

Student lettings

In general terms students in Halls of Residence or private accommodation are not able to claim housing benefit, meaning they are exempt from referral to the Rent Officer. However in certain circumstances, certain students may qualify for housing benefit, this decision will be taken by the LA.

  • Referral essential information
  • Referral - standard form
  • LHA – all pages
  • Caravan site fees

Fifty-two week rule

(v1.1 2011)

The normal time period between referrals for the same letting is 52 weeks unless there has been a change.

Introduction

Local authorities are obliged to make Rent Officer referrals every 52 weeks, and always have a current Rent Officer determination in force, but they cannot make them early. The local authorities are required to make a new referral within 3 days, or as soon as is possible, from the expiry of the previous determination. This referral may be made at anytime providing it is after 52 weeks from the previous referral.

The date the LA makes the referral is called the ‘relevant time’, which has a specific meaning within the Order. This date is:

  • For EIS cases, it’s the same day as we receive it, (it’s instant)
  • For other cases, it’s the date the LA signs and dates the referral
  • Or if they provide no date, the agency assumes the referral date is the day before the day we receive the referral

Cases should not be returned as within 52 weeks of the previous decision unless the period is counted from the date of the previous referral.

The LA may make a referral at any time, but the determination may never be backdated – it must be made as at the relevant time. There is no cut off date by which the LA must refer a case to us (as there used to be under the ‘delayed referrals’ arrangements, which have now been withdrawn).

Non-EIS cases

The only check the VOA make is whether or not it has been 52 weeks since the local authority last made a referral for that dwelling. The date the local authority made the last referral is normally the date they signed it, and is shown on VICTER as the ‘date of LA referral’.

EIS cases

Where the last referral for a dwelling is an EIS case the date the local authority made the referral and the date VOA received it are the same. So, when the next EIS referral for that dwelling is sent by the local authority valuation teams should carry out a straight-forward 52 week check.

However, where the last referral for a dwelling was not an EIS case valuation teams will need to follow the non-EIS procedures above.

Changes of circumstances

Where a claimant notifies the local authority of a relevant change of circumstances within the 52-week period, the local authority may apply for fresh determinations. But only very specific changes of circumstances override the 52 week rule.

Referrals cannot be made ahead of a future change of circumstances, only once that change has occurred. Change of Circumstances referrals may also not be made when a previous determination has been made that has involved a size and rent determination. This applies to all cases, whether the size and rent determination is lower, higher or the same.

  • Delayed referrals
  • Change of circumstances – HB
  • Relevant time
  • Contractual rent increases

Indicative rent levels

(v1 2009)

One of the types of determination made by the Rent Officer.

Rent Officers give Indicative Rent Levels to local authorities upon their individual requests for them only. Unlike the other determinations, Rent Officers do not need referrals from the local authority following a claim for housing benefit before making them.

This ensures that, until Rent Officers have made their valuations, local authorities have an indication of subsidy levels for pre-LHA cases. In the meantime, DWP guarantees subsidy up to the IRL level. The legislation providing for IRLs to be produced each month has not been removed, but because they will rarely be required, VOA provides them only when requested by individual LAs. In order for the operation of this policy to be monitored, VTMs should record such individual requests, before providing the requested IRL to the LA.

It is not possible to have a redetermination of an Indicative Rent Level.

Like Local Reference Rent Determinations, Indicative Rent Levels are determined by applying a formula using the highest rent (H) in the local authority area and the lowest rent (L) in the local authority area after excluding rents that are exceptionally high or exceptionally low.

The formula is –

I = (H+3L)/4

The process for making this determination is illustrated in the Indicative Rent Level flowchart.

The eight possible Indicative Rent Level categories, which may be requested individually, are:

  • One room let with substantial board and attendance
  • One room that shares either a kitchen or toilet, and is not let with substantial board and attendance
  • One room where neither of the first two categories apply
  • Two roomed dwellings
  • Three roomed dwellings
  • Four roomed dwellings
  • Five roomed dwellings
  • Six roomed dwellings

You should not provide any other Indicative Rent Levels. The “rooms” referred to are bedrooms or rooms suitable for living in.

There are some key points to take into account in making the Indicative Rent Levels

  • Compare the rent with those of assured tenancies (which may include some licences) for properties with the appropriate number of rooms
  • Use the entire Local Authority Area rather than a vicinity, neighbourhood or locality.
  • Assume that no one entitled to housing benefit wanted the premises
  • H and L do not include

  • Ineligible service charges (other than meals)
  • Water and sewerage charges

You must deduct the value of ineligible charges from H and L at the start of the process, not from the Indicative Rent Level at the end of the calculation.

  • Determinations – local reference rent
  • LHA – general information

Joint tenancies

(v1 2009)

The way that single lettings to several tenants are dealt with.

The local authority must refer the whole rent payable under the tenancy and not just any proportion that the tenant thinks he/she is liable for. All joint tenants are jointly and severally liable for the whole rent so, for joint tenancies, the referral should show the total rent and all the joint tenants and any other occupants at the property.

When making the determinations the Rent Officer must bear in mind the fact that this is a joint tenancy and should look for comparable evidence of similar tenancies. The size criteria must be applied taking into account all the occupants as they form one household. If there are children from different families living at the property they must all be considered together for the size criteria even though they are not siblings. For instance: two adult joint tenants each with a daughter under 16 qualify for a five room property (a bedroom for each joint tenant and one for the children plus two living rooms). There is no provision for the children to have a bedroom each just because they aren’t related.

Joint tenants may also be partners. In such a case the relationship takes precedence and the size criteria applies as normal.

If The VOA receive referrals in respect of two or more joint tenants together (or before the Rent Officer has made any determinations in respect of the first referral received) the Rent Officer can deal with them all. But, the determinations are made in respect of the premises to which the joint tenancy relates, and not in respect of any individual.

The 52 week rules apply to joint tenancy referrals as with normal referrals. If VOA have completed a decision for the property then any further referral can only be accepted if it meets the requirements of a “change of circumstances” referral, otherwise it will be returned to the LA as being “within 52 weeks” of the previous decision.

  • Determinations – size notional
  • Size criteria

Referral

(V1. 2009)

Such applications are called referrals.

A valid referral is one that:

  • is for the tenancy of a dwelling
  • identifies that tenancy
  • has all the essential information; and
  • is not for one of the excluded tenancies

We should ask the local authority for any information not included in the referral (see obtaining information).

To see the minimum information required either click on standard referral form or look at the tables in essential information.

We must deal with a valid referral and make the necessary determinations unless:

  • the referral is withdrawn by the housing benefit office
  • we discover that the Rent Officer does not have jurisdiction

Even if a tenant moves out after the local authority makes the referral, we must proceed with the case unless it is withdrawn.

Essential information

Many Housing Benefit Referrals made to VOA are received via the Electronic Interface System (EIS) and are automatically validated. Where manual (HBR1) referrals are made the minimum information required on a referral, is shown on the chart below.

Where a referral omits essential information, in the first instance it may be possible to contact the local authority by telephone to obtain the information. The information may be sent by telephone, email or fax. If the information is not available, then the referral should be returned to the local authority as incomplete.

The information in the first column is essential before the referral can be entered onto VICTER. file. In the most cases we can make determinations without the information in the second column.

ESSENTIAL TO ACCEPT APPLICATION DESIRABLE TO HAVE TO MAKE DETERMINATIONS
LA name, Claimant’s name, Address of premises (including postcode), Rent, Date of Referral (usually the date the referral is signed), LA reference, Household details, Number of rooms, Whether a SRR is needed, Ineligible/eligible services, Landlord’s name and address (PTD) Claimant’s phone number, Claimant’s national insurance number, Landlord’s phone number (if PTD), Type of accommodation, Tenancy start date, Type of tenancy (e.g. assured/shorthold/ joint tenancy) and tenancy details (e.g. furnished/resident landlord etc)
  • Referral – obtaining extra information

Essential referral information

(v.1 2009)

The information which the Local Authority must provide to the Rent Officer.

To see the minimum information required on a referral form either see the page “Standard Application Form” or look at the chart below.

The information in the first column is essential before we can accept the referral and enter the information provided onto Victer. We can not determine the case unless and until we also have the information in the second column. However, if this information is not included in the referral, this is not a reason to return the referral to the local authority. We can get this information by telephone, fax or e-mail. But we cannot make determinations until we have confirmation of this essential information on the file. In the majority of cases we can make determinations without the information in the third column.

Essential To Accept Application Necessary To Make Determinations Desirable To Have To Make Determinations
LA Name, Claimant’s Name, Address of Premises (including postcode), Rent Date of claim to LA, If renewal claim, start dates of current and next benefit periods Household details, Number of rooms, Whether a SRR is needed Ineligible/eligible services, LA Reference Tenancy details and date, Type of tenancy (e.g. assured/ shorthold/ furnished/ resident L/L, Type of dwelling, Claimant’s phone number, Landlord’s phone number (if PTD)
  • Referral - standard form

Referral form

The form used by Local Authorities to make such applications.

Referral Form

Relevant time for Housing Benefit referrals to the Rent Officer

(v1 2011)

The date on which the Rent Officer bases his/her determination.

The Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order 1997 as amended has a clear definition of the term ‘relevant time’. It says the relevant time is the time the referral is made, or if sooner, the tenancy ends.

The implications are that the date the referral is made will be the date on which the Rent Officer bases their determination, and the date from which the 52 week rule runs.

The date the referral is made is taken as being:

  • For EIS cases, it’s the same day as we receive it, (it’s instant)
  • For other cases, it’s the date the LA signs and dates the referral
  • Or if they provide no date, we assume it’s the day before the day we receive the referral

So the Rent Officer bases their valuation decision on the above dates, unless the tenancy ended before that date, in which case the valuation date is the date the tenancy ended.

The Rent Officer may not back date the decision to any date before the relevant time.

The relevant time is the date that the original referral was made, so that redeterminations and substitute determinations should be based on the date the referral to which they relate was made.

  • 52 week rule
  • Delayed referrals

Student accommodation - halls of residence

(v1 2009)

How the Rent Officer deals with student lettings.

After a change in the HB rules in 2004, the following category of student can apply for housing benefit:

  • students with additional needs
  • student couples with children
  • and lone-parent students

If a potential claimant meets the above requirements they may be able to claim HB if they are occupying accommodation in university or college halls of residence. If they do claim HB their rents are referred to VOA, and valuation teams deal with them like any other referral, making all the usual determinations. In Pathfinder areas, the LHA rules apply to these cases and they are not referred unless board is included in the rent.

However, most students who occupy accommodation which does not belong to their educational establishment are still not able to claim HB and there are no changes to the current rules for them.

Valuation teams should collect comparable confirmed and aspirational evidence for all types of accommodation that local colleges and universities let to their students. It is referred to as accommodation “rented from an educational establishment”. This evidence forms part of all LRRs/SRRs/LHAs of the relevant size or 1 room type in that locality or BRMA. VTM’s should follow the existing guidelines on quality assuring determinations if there are likely to be any significant changes as a result of including this type of lettings information.

When a local authority refers a rent for student accommodation, Rent Officers apply the LRR for that BRMA for the relevant size and it will include confirmed evidence for similar student accommodation. There are no special LRR/SRR provisions for student determinations.

Accommodation referred to VOA under this rule is likely to be specially adapted for students with additional needs, couples or lone parent students, and will probably be self-contained. VICTER also asks valuation teams to record the numbers of referrals for student accommodation provided by colleges or universities.

Part-time students who may, unusually, be renting accommodation from their educational establishment, may also benefit from this change but only if they would be eligible for HB if they were a full-time student.

  • Determinations – size notional
  • Size criteria
  • Lettings information

Application

Application Substitutes

(v.1. 2009)

The errors procedure enables the correction of Rent Officer determinations where an error occurred, so that claimants do not receive the wrong Housing Benefit. We should not use the procedure to correct mistakes found before we make the determinations.

If a local authority finds that it made an error in a referral to the Rent Officer concerning the

  • size of the dwelling
  • number of occupiers
  • composition of the household; or
  • terms of the tenancy

it must apply for a substitute determination or redetermination.

If Rent Officers or redetermination officers make an error in dealing with a referral, they must tell the local authority. This does not apply if they make an error in the application of their professional judgement, or have second thoughts about the rent, or if the local authority has signed up to a Service Level Agreement which provides for automatic substitutes. If the latter is in place, VOA can treat the case as though a substitute has been received from the local authority and proceed to process it.

If the local authority receive notification of an error made by the Rent Officer or redetermination officer where no agreement exists in relation to automatic substitutes, they must apply for a substitute determination or redetermination.

A local authority can apply for a substitute Rent Officer decision at any time after the original decision, and even where a subsequent Rent Officer decision has been made for the same accommodation on the same circumstances.

If we receive an application for a substitute determination or redetermination, we must start again, dealing with the substitute referral in exactly the same way as any other. We make all the determinations that the Rent Officer or redetermination officer would have been required to make originally, using the same assumptions and notify the local authority of the determinations. However, we make the valuation

  • as at the date we received the original referral; or, if earlier
  • as at the date that the tenancy ended
  • using the appropriate rental evidence for that time

We use the date of the original determination or benefit periods to determine if we can accept a further referral.

We can also accept a new application for substitute determination or redetermination if the previous substitute determination or redetermination contained an error.

Rent Officers should use the information on the referral to make determinations. If we subsequently discover inaccuracies in this information, the local authority can use the errors procedure and apply for a substitute determination.

Some errors are absolute, for example:

  • the number of occupiers
  • the composition of the household
  • the number of rooms in a dwelling

We should always use the errors procedure to correct these types of errors (even if the substitute is likely to produce the same determinations).

Other errors are relatively trivial and it would be inappropriate to use this procedure, as the claimant’s housing benefit will not be affected. Clerical and typographical errors, if discovered quickly, can be amended without recourse to the statutory procedure.

  • Redeterminations
  • Errors – correcting

Substitutes

(v.1. 2009)

Applications or determinations which replace an earlier flawed application or determination.

The errors procedure enables the correction of rent officer determinations where an error occurred, so that claimants do not receive the wrong Housing Benefit. We should not use the procedure to correct mistakes found before we make the determinations.

If a local authority finds that it made an error in a referral to the rent officer concerning the:

  • size of the dwelling
  • number of occupiers
  • composition of the household; or
  • terms of the tenancy

it must apply for a substitute determination or redetermination.

If rent officers or redetermination officers make an error in dealing with a referral, they must tell the local authority. This does not apply if they make an error in the application of their professional judgement, or have second thoughts about the rent, or if the local authority has signed up to a Service Level Agreement which provides for automatic substitutes. If the latter is in place, VOA can treat the case as though a substitute has been received from the local authority and proceed to process it.

If the local authority receive notification of an error made by the rent officer or redetermination officer where no agreement exists in relation to automatic substitutes, they must apply for a substitute determination or redetermination.

A local authority can apply for a substitute rent officer decision at any time after the original decision, and even where a subsequent rent officer decision has been made for the same accommodation on the same circumstances.

If we receive an application for a substitute determination or redetermination, we must start again, dealing with the substitute referral in exactly the same way as any other. We make all the determinations that the rent officer or redetermination officer would have been required to make originally, using the same assumptions and notify the local authority of the determinations. However, we make the valuation:

  • as at the date we received the original referral; or, if earlier
  • as at the date that the tenancy ended
  • using the appropriate rental evidence for that time

We use the date of the original determination or benefit periods to determine if we can accept a further referral.

We can also accept a new application for substitute determination or redetermination if the previous substitute determination or redetermination contained an error.

Rent officers should use the information on the referral to make determinations. If we subsequently discover inaccuracies in this information, the local authority can use the errors procedure and apply for a substitute determination.

Some errors are absolute, for example:

  • the number of occupiers
  • the composition of the household
  • the number of rooms in a dwelling; and

we should always use the errors procedure to correct these types of errors (even if the substitute is likely to produce the same determinations).

Other errors are relatively trivial and it would be inappropriate to use this procedure, as the claimant’s housing benefit will not be affected. Clerical and typographical errors, if discovered quickly, can be amended without recourse to the statutory procedure.

  • Redeterminations
  • Errors – correcting