Dealing with applications where the charge is for renting the site upon which a caravan or mobile home may be placed.
Caravans and site rents may be referred to the Rent Officer in a number of different ways. If the claimant owns their dwelling or pays site rent and caravan rent to different landlords, the site rent referral will be received separately. If they rent the dwelling and site from the same landlord, the single referral should include both elements. Referrals where the site rent is included are exempt from a determination under the size criteria, or size and rent determination.
Site rents are dealt with differently from other determinations under the Rent Officers’ Order as “special cases” and there are slightly different procedures. From the 6th April 2009 onwards there were changes in Housing Benefit Regulations relating to Gypsy site rent referrals which are explained in detail below.
Valuing site rents
Housing Benefit is payable for site fees for mobile homes. Special rules apply to the treatment of determinations for these. The Rent Officers Housing Benefit Functions Order is modified at Schedule 4 and - it tells Rent Officers to deal with site rents differently. The main effect is that comparable evidence must be of “payments in respect of a site” and other comparable rents cannot be used. Rent Officers and RDO’s must not use rents of ‘dwellings’ in any ‘Significantly High’ site rent determination. They make the same set of determinations for site fees as they do for any other referral, except that they do not operate the Size Criteria – so no size notional determination must be made.
When RO’s/RDO’s are making the Significantly High Rent test for a site fee they must only use evidence of other site fees. The LRR determination may ignore the requirement to consider the number of rooms. All pitch fees or site rents for all sites in any BRMA(LRR) should be considered when determining the LRR. Of course this may involve extrapolation of site rents from outside the subject BRMA(LRR). Sheds, shower blocks or other communal facilities are not relevant for LRR purposes.
Site rents tend to be standard charges for each site. However, if there is evidence that the charges are different for different sizes of dwelling, RO’s/RDO’s must reflect this in their Significantly High Rent determination, but not for the LRR. There may be a sliding scale of charges on a site, so RO’s/RDO’s should ensure that they are comparing like-with-like when valuing these cases, and that the LRR is based on the lettings information for all sites and all fees in the BRMA(LRR) and all sites and all fees in any extrapolated lettings information from outside the subject BRMA(LRR).
For example, if a site charges £20 per week as a site fee for a 2 bed dwelling, and the same site has larger pitches for which it charges £30 per week for 3 or 4 bed dwellings, then the significantly high rent determination should seek to compare the referred site rent with similar sized site rents across the BRMA(LRR) and if necessary extrapolating from beyond the subject BRMA(LRR). However when determining the LRR for the referral, site rents for all sizes of pitch (including so called ‘double plots’) should be included in the list of rents compiled from across the BRMA(LRR) from which the LRR is determined.
Rent Officers are required to determine an appropriate area over which to look at the evidence for the determination of a local reference rent. The area for the Rent Officer to consider will initially be the same broad rental market area as that determined and generally agreed for other types of accommodation. While there always remains a possibility that the Rent Officer may decide that a different area should be determined as the BRMA(LRR) in any case, it is expected that the agreed predetermined BRMA(LRR) will be applied in all but the most exceptional cases, and that if considering that there may be sufficient grounds to apply a new BRMA(LRR), then the Rent Officer must consult line managers and get agreement at Band 3 level before determining a ‘one off’ BRMA(LRR).
The primary issue is that the BRMA(LRR) should comply with the requirements of being an area within which there is reasonable access to the HERBS facilities (for health, education, recreation, banking and shopping) containing a variety of types of residential premises, held on a variety of tenures, and that it should contain sufficient privately rented premises to ensure that the resultant LRR is representative of a rent which the landlord might reasonably expect to obtain in that area.
Rent Officer teams must use all the available evidence. In most cases, the evidence of values is readily obtainable. Some sites offer off-season or winter accommodation rates to benefit claimants and some deal specifically with ‘travellers’. RO’s/RDO’s must make a careful assessment of a genuine free market in these cases. Evidence of rents from tourist sites must not be taken into account unless people are occupying the sites as their homes. Site rents paid by holidaymakers should be treated as supporting information only – it should not be used as transactional evidence.
Gypsies and travellers
In this context “gypsies and travellers” means—
(a) People with a nomadic cultural tradition, or people who have a background involving living in a caravan; and
(b) People with a nomadic way of life, whatever their race or origin, including—
(i) people who, due to their own or their family’s or dependant’s educational or health needs, have stopped travelling; and
(ii) members of an organised group of travelling show people or circus people
With effect from 6th April 2009, schedule 2 of the Housing Benefit Regulations is amended to identify all exempt cases not referred to the Rent Officer under Regulation 14. The effect of this amendment is to categorise County Council owned sites and local authority owned sites where the claimant rents the site from the local authority and the caravan from a private landlord as “Excluded Tenancies”.
Excluded tenancies can be referred to the Rent Officer only where the local authority states that the claimant is unreasonably over accommodated or that the rent is unreasonably high. Where a local authority wishes to refer site rents under this provision, it must state a reason for referral.
Any Gypsy site rents referred to the Rent Officer (either under one of the above two reasons, or where the landlord is not the County Council or local authority, since 6th April 2009) must be valued in exactly the same way as any other site rent. Any rent for a caravan which is situated on a Gypsy site must be valued in exactly the same way as any other caravan on any other site. (See “Valuing Mobile Homes and Caravans” below.) Referrals for renting caravans or mobile homes (rather than site rents) may be made in the normal manner (they were not affected by the April 2009 change) as long as the referred rent does not include any element of site rent paid direct to a County Council or local authority.
For clarity, some example scenarios are set out below;
Gypsy site rent referred, landlord is County Council, no reason given. Rent Officer should return the referral “outside scope of scheme” asking for a reason for any re-referral to be given.
Caravan and site rent referred, site rent paid direct to County Council. Rent Officer should return the referral “outside scope of scheme” asking for the caravan rent to be re-referred separately, and for a reason for the site rent re-referral to be given.
Gypsy site rent referred, rent paid to third party who sub-let the Gypsy site from the local authority. Rent Officer should provide a determination in the normal way because the claimant’s landlord is the third party and is not the County Council or local authority,
The RO/RDO’s duty is to reflect the market. While it is difficult to obtain evidence of Gypsies or travellers paying their rent without obtaining housing benefit, it is not impossible to do so. Local authority HB sections will know exactly how many families on a site obtain HB. A discussion with them and the council’s Gypsy liaison officer may help reveal the number of those occupants of a site who do not apply to the council for assistance with their rent. Between them, they will be able to give this valuable information, including their own sites which may never be referred to VOA, but which can provide useful transactional evidence.
Gypsy and traveller sites often include many extra facilities and services, which are expensive to provide. These may include additional site management, maintenance, clearance costs, fencing and security. Additional services will frequently include education facilities for children, resolving disputes on site and with neighbours, and personal support (help with claiming HB for example). All these additional items will be included in the SHR decision, which could be much higher than for other caravan sites.
But again, the LRR determination will include evidence of all site rents, not just Gypsy sites. The ‘H’ and ‘L’ must be linked to actual transactions of site rents in the non-HB market, whatever the circumstances. RO’s/RDO’s must be able to demonstrate that link clearly and transparently. The whole range of rents used to determine the LRR may include supporting evidence, but the ‘H’ and ‘L’ points must each relate to identifiable transactions in the range of evidence being considered for determining the LRR.
Again the Broad Rental Market Area (Local Reference Rent) should above all satisfy the test of having reasonable access to the HERBS facilities (for health, education, recreation, banking and shopping), as well as containing a variety of residential property held on a variety of tenures, and having a sufficient amount of privately rented accommodation for the resultant LRR to reflect a rent which the landlord might reasonably expect to obtain.
Valuing mobile homes and caravans
Where a tenant pays rent for the caravan or mobile home itself including the site rent (as opposed to just the site or pitch fee alone) RO’s/RDO’s must deal with referrals for them as any other case, apart from refraining to apply the size criteria or applying a size notional or size and rent determination. Rents of caravans or mobile homes are compared with rents of similar caravans or mobile homes in similar condition for the Significantly High test. Most market evidence for caravans and mobile homes includes a site rent element – in other words, most are sited vans/homes and there is normally only one single rental payment. Although it may be possible to identify the two parts of the rent RO’s/RDO’s should include both elements of rent in one set of determinations (unless the site rent is on a Gypsy site and is paid direct to a County Council or local authority – see “Gypsies and Travellers” above). This is consistent with the Order, as amended.
The LRR or SRR used for a caravan will include comparable evidence for all other dwellings, including bricks and mortar lettings, in the BRMA(LRR) with the right number of rooms for the claimant. The BRMA(LRR) used should be the same BRMA(LRR) as for conventional accommodation. Any Exceptionally High notional rent will be on the same basis – using evidence of all appropriate size dwellings, but from within the neighbourhood only.
Paying rent for caravan and site to different landlords
Where a tenant pays rent for a caravan or mobile home to one landlord, but pays the site or pitch fee to a different landlord there are several possibilities. If the tenant is claiming HB for both payments the L/A normally refers the two parts separately. RO’s/RDO’s should then make their determinations for each part separately – following the guidance above.
It should be borne in mind that if the site rent is for a Gypsy site and the landlord is a County Council or local authority, the guidance given above in the gypsy sections must be followed.
Where SHR determinations are made for the caravan part only care should be taken to remove the site fee part of any market evidence collected which includes both caravan and site fee together. Please see the separate handbook page ‘Caravans exclusive of site fees’.
If the tenant is only claiming HB for one payment, or if only one of them is eligible for HB, the L/A should send a referral for that payment alone. The RO/RDO should then make their determinations in relation to that payment only.
Site rent cases typically use the same BRMA(LRR) as other cases.
Specifically suitable alternative sites, possibly extrapolated from outside the BRMA(LRR), should be considered when determining the SHR. This is often necessary for gypsy site referrals.
All sites across the BRMA(LRR), and possibly extrapolated from outside the BRMA(LRR), should be used to determine the LRR.
- Mooring charges
- Caravans exclusive of site fees
- Size notional