Q: I rent a flat to a couple who receive Housing Benefit. They have fallen into arrears and I want to take action to have the rent they get paid directly to me. The tenants themselves are not being very communicative but obviously I still have expenses to meet. What do I do to get their rent paid directly to me?
A: Local authorities must make direct payments to landlords if a tenant has rent arrears of eight weeks, or if payments are already being made to the landlord from other income-related benefits. So, depending on how many weeks of arrears your tenants is in, you should be able to qualify for direct payments.
You’ll need to apply to the housing office at your local council to get the ball rolling but be warned, many landlords have told us that the process can take a while and you may have to keep chasing them. The sooner you get onto the local council, the better.
Other changes to Housing Benefit that came into effect in April 2011 have made it easier for landlords to receive direct payments, but the changes come with a quid pro quo. The government have made it easier to receive direct payments if landlords reduce their rents to what it refers to as “affordable” if it helps a tenant secure or retain a tenancy. Most likely (although this can vary from council to council and is different depending on location because ‘affordable’ naturally changes by region), you’ll have to demonstrate that you have reduced the rent to qualify for direct payments in such a case.
For future reference, there are other grounds you can apply for direct payments but they do depend on the discretion of the local authority; also the tenant’s ability to manage their own affairs. Direct payment can be made if a tenant is likely to have difficulty managing their financial affairs (due to illness or drug addiction, for instance), has a previous record of not paying or has previously had payments made to the landlord due to arrears. But remember, these decisions are entirely at the discretion of the local authority and experiences vary authority to authority.