Search the site


Local Housing allowance & The Disability Discrimination Act

publication date: Jun 12, 2008
Download Print
The Local Housing Allowance

The Local Housing Allowance, introduced as a replacement for Housing Benefit, was introduced in April for all new claims. The system has been piloted for a considerable period of time; initially by a small group of local authorities and then a larger sample. The feedback from these authorities was very positive and no significant change in the overall number of properties available to tenants receiving support was reported, despite initial scepticism from agents.

The main difference is that landlords can no longer receive the allowance direct from the local authority but have to collect it, however is deemed appropriate, from the tenant. This was the area of greatest concern and although the pilot showed no significant arrears problems it remains to be seen how the scheme will work out.

Should a tenant get into arrears there is a mechanism for landlords to change the payment process. After eight weeks’ arrears have been accumulated the landlord can request that payment be made directly. Many local authorities have actually indicated that they would like to know as soon as arrears occur; this would include a tenant failing to pay a top-up. Landlords and agents are advised to check with their individual local authorities so find out how they intend to approach that situation. Local authorities will also, in many cases, agree to pay a landlord direct if the tenant has a history of not being able to handle their rental matters in the past.

The purpose of the change is to make individuals more accountable for their own lives, and all local authorities have had to produce a table of the level of payment a tenant will receive in there area. This is based very simply on the size of the property and the level of accommodation to which the tenant is entitled. If a tenant is entitled to receive £120 per week allowance and can secure a property for less then the tenant may keep up to £15 per week. In this scenario if arrears arise the tenant will not be able to keep the excess until any arrears have been recovered.

As the landlord or agent will not be receiving the rent direct from the authority, clawback will no longer apply.

In conjunction with Housing Allowance many local authorities are also now offering a deposit guarantee scheme. A few local authorities have set this scheme up in conjunction with Citizens Advice Bureau for certain types of case. Again the rules vary and local advice should be taken as appropriate.

This might include:
● reviewing the requirements of the legislation and making sure you/your landlord understands the implications for yourself and the landlord
● anticipating any changes that might be needed to make and planning ahead
● looking for examples of good practice from other landlords ● consulting existing tenants about changes they think need to be made (also think about the needs of tenants who may not currently be able to access your services)
● obtaining professional help

Remember that barriers to accessing your property are not just physical barriers – think about whether you are unintentionally hindering some groups from renting your property by other means.

Adopting an equalities policy and letting your landlords and tenants know about your policy and how they should comply with that is also good practice.

Case law example: The court found that an estate agent had discriminated on racial grounds by refusing to arrange a property viewing. The applicant was suspicious of the reason given and arranged for four other minority ethnic applicants to request appointments to see the property.

Further information can be found at: www.equalityhumanrights.com

The Disability Discrimination Act

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people on grounds of disability when you let, sell or manage property. Housing providers are also bound by the requirement to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.

Making reasonable adjustments

Landlords in Britain have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that people are not prevented from using their services because they have a disability.

When deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable, landlords can consider issues such as the cost of the adjustment, the practicality of making it, health and safety factors, the size of the organisation, and whether it will achieve the desired effect.

Adjustments can be in the form of physical changes to a building, providing extra services, or changing a policy or procedure.

Example:

The landlord of a private block of flats makes the following changes to help disabled tenants - replacing taps and door handles with models that are easier to use or adding a wheelchair ramp at the main entrance.

How to tackle discrimination and promote equality

The starting point for any effort to improve access to a property is to assess what is already being done and to look for areas for improvement.

Smoke free tenancies

The Office of Fair Trading has advised that it is ‘perfectly reasonable for a landlord to include a ‘no-smoking’ term in a tenancy agreement’.

The OFT said: “There are similarities between a ‘no smoking’ term and a ‘no pets’ term. A landlord is quite entitled to take reasonable steps to ensure that his/ her property is kept clean and tidy, and free from any unpleasant smells. A key consideration for all landlords must also be the issue of health and safety, and there is no doubt that having smokers as tenants increases the risk of fire.

We would argue strongly that a no smoking term is not potentially unfair, and especially in the current climate where there is a wide smoking ban in indoor areas.”