Rent Officer Handbook: Housing Benefit referral

Housing Benefit referral: redetermination

Appeals of Rent Officer determinations which are considered by a separate Rent Officer.

Consulting Officer

(v2 2011)

The appeal process involves consulting with a further Rent Officer.

1. General

The redetermination officer (RDO) has a duty to seek the advice of one or two Rent Officers in every redetermination case. They are known as the ‘consulting officer(s)’ or CO. The CO must be a Rent Officer (RO), ideally with some knowledge and experience of the area concerned, although not the RO that made the original determination, or has had a hand in any previous redetermination or determination on the subject referral case. Failing that the RDO can consult with any RO (not involved in the original determination or previous redetermination/s), Valuation Team Manager (VTM), Lettings Research Manager (LRM), Review & Assurance Manager (RAM), a Rent Officer from a non-valuation workstream, a Territorial Manager (TM), or even a member of the Guidance team. On occasion, a fellow RDO may be consulted provided they have not had prior involvement in the case and are not required to carryout subsequent redeterminations.

In exceptional circumstances the Redet Manager (RDM) may be consulted – for example, if the case has to be completed that day, and nobody else more appropriate is available.

In Site Rent cases where there is a limited amount of evidence available it is recommended that the RAM is contacted as they have access to mapping technology that will help in the LRR determination. It is good practice to contact the RAM for the first redetermination of this type of case.

The CO role / process is particularly important for more unusual cases, but it should not delay the completion of a redetermination case. It is not acceptable to miss targets simply because the ideal CO is unavailable.

2. Contacting the consulting officer

Normally the RDO contacts the originating office by telephone (unless the RDO and CO are located within the same building, when a face to face meeting can be arranged) prior to completing the valuation. Ideally the RDO should be ready to consult on a number of cases at the same time although with a diminishing caseload this may not be possible. Having discussed the case with a CO the RDO can finalise his/her valuation, complete the case on VICTER, and note details of the discussion with the CO (including the CO’s name, and date of discussion) in Case Notes.

Where the RDO is a Remote Worker the CO could call the RDO back straight away if mobile phone costs can be saved.

Having spoken to the initial CO the RDO may, in complex cases, speak to a further CO if necessary. This should not delay completion of the redetermination case though.

3. What should be discussed with the consulting officer?

It is up to the RDO to discuss whatever they feel is appropriate with the CO. Rental levels in general (rather than property specific values) should be discussed - with the exception of LRR’s, which can be discussed fully. Unless the case is particularly complex, the discussions should be brief yet pertinent.

Prior to the consultation, the RDO will have prepared the groundwork regarding appropriate market evidence analysis, appropriate LRR etc, and may well have inspected the property. So, they are likely to have first hand knowledge of the accommodation type, neighbourhood, BRMA(LRR), household etc. The RDO will probably have already formed an opinion concerning the determinations, but the CO can provide invaluable local knowledge and/or advice about trends and how that particular market is performing. In essence, the final piece of the jigsaw.

The RDO should note (in Case notes) all the comments or advice put forward by the CO, together with any issues where agreement could not be reached. But, it is important to remember that it should be a non confrontational discussion - it is not a negotiation. In cases where the RDO is proposing to confirm all the original RO decisions, this should be conveyed to the CO.

  • Redeterminations – all other pages

Redeterminations - representations

(v1.1 2011)

The appeal process may involve consideration of representations made by the claimant.

Either the local authority or the claimant may be able to instigate a redetermination although the formal request must come from the local authority. If the local authority want to ask for a redetermination of their own volition there is no requirement to state a reason or supply any representations.

Subject to the rules on previous redeterminations if, within a month of being notified of their HB award, a claimant makes signed written representations to the local authority relating to a Rent Officer determination or redetermination the local authority is required to ask the Rent Officer for a redetermination and to provide a copy of those representations. These representations can relate to any issue but can generally be broken down into 5 headings:

  • personal circumstances
  • the Rent Officer’s determinations
  • broad rent market areas (local reference rent) and local reference rents – for example: how large an area, precise boundaries
  • lettings information – volume and age of evidence, who the VOA contacts to obtain evidence, copies of lettings information
  • interpretation of the regulations and rules

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, merely an idea of the types of representations that claimants may make.

A number of local authorities have printed forms for claimants to request a redetermination and they accept a request without more than a signature at the bottom of the form or a simple statement that the claimant doesn’t like the RO’s decision. In such cases it is the local authorities decision that this constitutes “written representations” and they are entitled to ask for a redetermination. They should include the form or representations when doing so but many do not, on the grounds that there is nothing material in there for the redetermination officer to address.

If we receive a request for a redetermination that is shown as being at the claimant’s request but which does not have any written representations attached we have no right to decline to deal with the case. The instruction telling the local authority that they must request a redetermination is contained in the Housing Benefit Regulations and there is nothing in there or in our Housing Benefit Functions Order that gives us the power to decline the request; so to do so would exceed our authority. If a claimant makes material representations that are not sent to us that is a matter between them and their local authority. If necessary, and on rare occasions, natural justice would require us to reopen the case once the local authority did pass on the representations; alternatively the local authority may reapply for a redetermination in their own right and provide the representations at that point.

Redetermination officers should be aware that a redetermination instigated by a claimant may have written representations that have not been passed on by the local authority. It is recommended that in EIS cases, where these representations may follow the electronic application by post after a few days, that no redetermination decision is issued for at least a week after receipt of the EIS application. This gives an opportunity for the local authority to send any representations to us and for us to match them to the EIS application. If no representations are received within this period the redetermination officer can assume that there are none. In paper application cases it is reasonable that we rely on the local authority to provide any written representations at the time of the application and if none are provided then we may assume that there are no material representations that the local authority feel necessary to provide.

If at any stage a redetermination officer thinks that there were material written representations which have not been passed on they can serve notice on the local authority that they require these representations before making their redetermination. Such a situation might arise where a claimant mentions their representations at an inspection or during a telephone conversation or in a letter. (In cases where a redetermination officer has formally asked the local authority for such information the time period for making the redetermination does not start until the local authority provides the information requested).

Redetermination officers must bear the claimant’s representations in mind when making their decisions but they must only act on those matters that the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order allows. The representations may relate to matters that are outside of the redetermination officers remit (for instance: personal circumstances or the application of the size criteria) and in such cases the redetermination officer will not be able to make allowances for them.

Redetermination officers are expected to respond to any representations clearly and concisely. VICTER allows you to enter free-text in remarks and important representations can be addressed or noted here. Where there have been written representations redeterminations officers are advised to make reference to them in their redetermination decision remarks and in case notes.

Claimants are entitled to ask for and receive written explanations of redetermination decisions in addition to the standard Redetermination Reasons for Decision. Redetermination officers should always be open and accountable, and attempt to answer a legitimate request for information when the claimant first makes it.

Related pages

  • Reasons for decision
  • Redeterminations – all other pages

Redeterminations

(V1 2009)

Such appeals are called redeterminations.

A redetermination is the process by which a local authority or HB claimant may ask for the Rent Officers determinations to be looked at again. The redetermining Rent Officer will consult with at least 1 other Rent Officer before making their redetermination, and their redeterminations may be higher, lower or the same as the Rent Officer’s original determination. Additionally, any changes to the Rent Officer’s original determinations will be back dated to the date of the Rent Officers original determinations.

A redetermination is only available for cases referred under the Housing benefit scheme. There is no right of redetermination under the LHA scheme.

Both the claimant and the local authority may request a redetermination of any of the Rent Officer’s HB determinations, which has effect at the date of the application. A claimant and local authority may only ask for one redetermination each, but if the claimant asks for the first one, then the local authority seek a second redetermination, the claimant can ask for another one.

In summary:

If the claimant makes the first redetermination request, there are a maximum of 3 redeterminations per claim

If the Local Authority makes the first redetermination request, there are a maximum of 2

Claimants have 1 calendar month from the date they are notified of their HB decision to appeal against their HB award to the local authority. Where a claimant appeals against benefit and the letter of appeal wholly or partly refers to the Rent Officer’s determinations the local authority must ask for a redetermination (attaching a copy of the claimant’s appeal letter to the application).

If the local authority initiates a redetermination they don’t need to give any reasons for making the application.

Valuation teams should normally accept applications for redeterminations from local authorities at face value. Unless the redetermination request clearly relates to a previous determination (ie. it is no longer an effective determination) VOA should accept the local authority’s decision, and start the redetermination process. If there is any doubt about whether a particular redetermination application should be accepted valuation teams should seek further guidance from the Guidance Unit helpdesk.

The VOA deals with redeterminations in the same way as other determinations. The redetermination officer makes all relevant determinations using the same assumptions and provides a similar notification to the local authority. However, the redetermination officer also has a duty to seek the advice of at least one other Rent Officer (known as consulting officers) in every redetermination case. The consulting officer should, wherever possible, be familiar with the locality relating to the subject dwelling.

The redetermination officer makes the redetermination assessment as at the date of the original application for determination or the date the tenancy ended, if earlier.

In practice, redetermination officers are:

  • Part of a separate team within the Valuation Assurance Directorate
  • independent from the original Rent Officer and the local decision making process

Redetermination officers are not carrying out a review or an appeal of the Rent Officer’s determination, nor does a redetermination constitute an objection to the original determination. Redetermination officers are looking at the matter again, making a fresh decision, although the redetermination officer will be expected to comment if they disagree with the original Rent Officer’s decision.

Before a local valuation team inputs a redetermination onto VICTER they must carry out formal pre-processing checks on the day the redetermination request is received. The case should be checked to see if there has been an obvious error in the original decision (for example the Rent Officer has used the wrong number of rooms or wrong LRR). Where errors in the original referral/determination have been identified that warrant a substitute determination this should be dealt with immediately, rather than start a redetermination. This will speed up process for the local authority and claimant and they will still have the right to request a redetermination of the substitute decision if they still disagree with the decision.

Following these checks if the case is approved for redetermination the redetermination unit should be provided with the following documents:

  • the application by the local authority requesting a redetermination
  • any papers from the claimant (or local authority) supporting the application

Redetermination officers should also have access to local management information including indicative rent levels, approved rent levels and local reference rent levels.

Redetermination officers have access to the lettings information collected and collated locally, although they can make independent enquiries. However, it is expected that this should only be necessary in the minority of cases. Where redetermination officers obtain additional lettings information during a redetermination they should make sure that they pass it back to the appropriate valuation team manager for input onto the lettings information database by the local valuation team.

Redetermination officers send written reasons for their decisions to both the local authority and claimant.

  • Redet flowchart
  • Reasons for decision
  • Lettings Information - all pages

Redeterminations - inspection criteria

(v1.1 2011)

Considerations of the Rent Officer when deciding whether to inspect the letting.

Redetermination officers usually inspect around 40% of redetermination cases to allow the most effective use of resources and to provide an efficient qualitative valuation service. Any RDO actions taken outside of the below criteria will need to be justified to the Redetermination Manager.

In selecting which cases to inspect redetermination officers should use the following criteria:

‘Problem’ properties and poor quality areas:

  • Redetermination Managers and redetermination officers should work together to ensure that properties where the referred rent is below the LRR or areas of poor quality property are adequately targeted under the inspection criteria. Properties should be specifically inspected where there is a history of disrepair, or where there is a perception of overcharging and poor management. Inspection would confirm whether the condition has changed and would also enable VOA to:

  • Achieve DCLG policy objectives to ensure everyone has access to a decent home at an affordable price
  • Provide supplementary knowledge to support lettings information which more commonly provides information on better quality/ more expensive accommodation

Additional criteria:

  • Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) - Where there are no details on file or which have not been seen for more than six months. In such cases the common areas in addition to the referred room should be inspected
  • Where there is the possibility of poor quality dwellings being valued at too high a level (e.g. some low-demand areas)
  • New or recent lettings - Particularly where the property has not been seen before and it is not similar to other properties known to VOA/or has unusual features
  • Older cases – Properties that have not been inspected for over 3 years and which would not normally need inspecting (eg properties owned by a well established, reputable landlord who maintains his properties well etc)
  • Local authority request - Where a specific request has been received from the local authority. Such cases are not mandatory but should be judged on their merits
  • When other inspections have been arranged in a neighbourhood and it would be beneficial to visit a property that would otherwise not be inspected
  • Where there are particular broad rental market area (local reference rent) issues or the redetermination officer needs to obtain knowledge of a specific neighbourhood/BRMA (LRR).
  • Where the tenant requests an inspection in their representations and where personal circumstances require a full and detailed explanation
  • “Further redeterminations” must be inspected to validate information and ensure accuracy of valuation, as well as to demonstrate the fresh view being taken by the RDO to the evidence and determinations

Other reasons for inspection

There may be other circumstances, specific to a local area, that mean a new local criteria for inspection should be introduced (for example, to help DWP pilot or monitor the impact of a new policy initiative such as regeneration). Redetermination officers should discuss and agree any new local criteria with their Redetermination Manager.

The reason for the inspection must be recorded on the inspection sheet.

Inspections should not be carried out to satisfy non-valuation based criteria. For example, properties should not be inspected just to check that the information provided is accurate. RDOs should not be inspecting to ensure that the:

  • Information provided by the local authority Housing Benefit department is thought to be inadequate or inaccurate
  • Property actually exists
  • Tenant actually lives there
  • Address is correct
  • Household details are correct

These issues should be resolved through contact with the local authority, or the tenant. Staff should be mindful that some tenants will not want their landlord to know that they are claiming benefit. That claimant confidentiality is crucial for the Rent Officer to maintain.

In addition redetermination officers are not expected to visit where the:

  • LRR is the lowest determination – regardless of whether other determinations also need to be reviewed. As a guide if the next determination is more than 10% higher than the LRR the RDO should not inspect, but this will depend on local circumstances
  • redetermination request is only in respect of the SRR
  • Rent Officer or redetermination officer has carried out a recent inspection, or the property is known to the RDO, and there is sufficient information available to make a determination. For example, other rooms in an HMO, or the same site/mooring
  • claimant has vacated or is known to be potentially violent
  • location of the property is remote and the RDO can speak to the claimant by telephone to enable a determination to be made

The general principle is that a property should not be inspected unless the visit helps in the valuation process.

The national criteria are deliberately flexible to cover the different types of accommodation and markets in differing areas. RDO’s and the Redetermination Manager need to refine the criteria to ensure that they are inspecting the most appropriate properties. For example, in areas with a considerable amount of poorer quality properties the local criteria should ensure that these properties are targeted for inspection so that redetermination officers’ determinations reflect the differences in standard.

  • Redeterminations – all other pages
  • Inspection criteria – HB