Housing benefit and supported housing: latest case law

Supported housing providers often probe the limits of housing benefit legislation. Here, Ed Mitchell looks at the results of the latest cases

The decisions discussed here have all been made by either the social security commissioners or the Upper Tribunal (which replaced the commissioners in 2008). This means that councils that determine housing benefit claims are required to follow these binding legal rulings.

Exempt accommodation

The concept of “exempt accommodation” is important for the funding of many supported housing projects. Generally, the amount of rent met by a housing benefit award is restricted by reference to local levels. However, this does not apply to exempt accommodation. Briefly, this is accommodation where the landlord is a housing association or voluntary organisation and provides “care, support or supervision” for the claimant.

Commissioner decision CH 3811 2006 (May 2007) concerned a housing ­association landlord who provided only minimal support to a claimant: a few ­minutes’ advice a week. The rest of the care and support was provided by a ­separate ­organisation funded by Supporting People. The landlord’s support was held too small to count, which meant that, for the purposes of the legislation, he did not provide support. As a result, the accommodation was not exempt. The weekly rent of £200 would therefore be restricted by reference to local rent levels.

Adult placement schemes

An adult placement scheme placed a man with learning disabilities in a private household. He was liable to pay £120 a week rent. It was hoped that the placement would be exempt accommodation so that all the rent would be met by housing benefit. The Upper Tribunal, however, ruled that the definition of exempt accommodation was not satisfied. This was because the man’s landlord, a private individual, was not a housing association or voluntary organisation. The upshot was that only £60 of the rent would be met by housing benefit (Case [2009] UKUT 12 (AAC), January 2009).

Accommodation for sleep-in carers

A woman with learning disabilities lived in a small supported housing project in a two-bedroom terrace house. The other bedroom was used by sleep-in ­carers and the woman was required to pay rent for that bedroom as well as her own. A housing benefit claim was made. It was accepted that the house was exempt accommodation. The point of dispute concerned the rent for the carers’ room. The Upper Tribunal held that the rent for this room must be met by housing benefit because, without it, the woman could not live safely in the house (Case [2009] UKUT 28 (AAC) Feb. 2009).

Strict house rules

A residential addiction project had strict rules that were incorporated in its clients’ occupancy licences. This raised an issue as to whether one of the core conditions for housing benefit was met: the requirement for a claimant’s tenancy or licence to be “on a commercial basis”. In decision CH 2491 2007 (March 2008), a commissioner upheld a finding that the licences were not on a commercial basis. This finding was made because the licence conditions were exceptionally strict and in some cases unenforceable, such as a requirement to leave Herefordshire once a rehabilitation programme was complete. As a result, residents of the project did not qualify for housing benefit.

Ed Mitchell is a solicitor and editor of Social Care Law Today

More legal updates

This article is published in the 21 May issue of Community Care magazine under the heading When it is right to claim benefits in supported housing projects

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