Q. I have been renting a house from my ex-boyfriend’s father for three years. My ex-boyfriend never lived here with me, I have always lived here with just my two children.
I have received a letter from the local authority saying they want me to attend an interview about my claim for Housing Benefit and it talks about my landlord.
Am I doing anything wrong by renting from him? I thought I was allowed to rent from anyone as long as I made sure the rent was paid?
A. If the local authority is investigating your claim and looking into who is your landlord, then they may be assessing whether or not you have a genuine tenancy for which rent is being paid. If this is the case then they are likely to want to see evidence that you are actually paying rent.
This could be receipts or bank statements showing the money being transferred to your landlord. They will also want to see when you started paying rent; was it when you moved into the property or a long time later? The local authority has to check for ‘contrived tenancies’, where tenancies have been set up purely as a way of taking money from the benefit system. In some cases, Housing Benefit is paid and passed to the landlord as a profit-making process rather than it being in order to secure accommodation for the tenant. To get Housing Benefit, the tenancy must be on a commercial basis, i.e. treated as a business, so the local authority will want to confirm that you are being treated in the same way as any other tenant would be treated; including that eviction would be considered if you didn’t pay your rent. Renting from a family member or someone you know does not, on its own, mean that the tenancy is contrived or that Housing Benefit cannot be paid.
But the local authority must be satisfied that the agreement has been made for the right reasons. There are people that you are not able to rent from and be able to claim Housing Benefit, such as ex-partners if you have previously shared the property or if you share the property with your landlord. You are also not able to claim Housing Benefit if you have a child with your landlord. If a decision is made that your tenancy is not on a commercial basis then the appeals route is available, and you should seek advice for help with this.