Anchor Hanover Group
01 February 2022
The Housing Ombudsman’s approach to investigating and determining complaints is to decide what is fair in all the circumstances of the case. This is set out in the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme). The Ombudsman considers the evidence and looks to see if there has been any ‘maladministration’, for example whether the landlord has failed to keep to the law, followed proper procedure, followed good practice or behaved in a reasonable and competent manner.
Both the resident and the landlord have submitted information to the Ombudsman and this has been carefully considered. Their accounts of what has happened are summarised below. This report is not an exhaustive description of all the events that have occurred in relation to this case, but an outline of the key issues as a background to the investigation’s findings.
- The complaint concerns how the landlord administered the resident’s rent account.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is an assured tenant of the landlord, which is a housing association. The property is a flat in a communal building.
Summary of events
- The resident has had an ongoing dispute with the landlord relating to rent payments and how it had managed his rent account. A complaint into these issues was made by the resident on 18 March 2020 and responded to by the landlord on 17 April 2020.
- On 21 March 2021 the resident wrote to the landlord and requested to raise a new complaint into how his rent account had been handled and noted that he had been over charged by approximately £25 for the period 2020/21.
- The resident went on to explain that the issue was due to the formula used by the landlord when calculating rent payments, which affected residents who paid a proportion of their rent directly from benefits. As a resolution to the complaint, the resident requested that the level he had been overcharged be deducted from the rent payments for 2021/22.
- The landlord acknowledged the complaint on 25 March 2021 and called the resident on 7 April 2021 to discuss the matter. A stage one complaint response was then sent by the landlord on 12 April 2021. It informed the resident that:
- It received 13 benefit payments each year, paid every four weeks. The landlord then calculated the shortfall of rent owed and charged the resident accordingly. The landlord explained that this calculation was an estimate and that it would not give the exact amount of benefit due to be paid in the financial year down to the penny.
- It confirmed that the shortfall calculation had left the resident’s rent account £27.72 in credit for the year 2020/21. The landlord informed the resident that it would send him a cheque refunding the credit and that it would amend his direct debit from 1 May 2021 onwards.
- It would also undertake a review of its procedures relating to its rent calculations to identify any improvements that could be made to avoid or lessen future overpayments.
- The resident wrote to the landlord on 9 April 2021 and requested an escalation of the complaint as the stage one response had not offered a satisfactory resolution.
- The landlord replied on 9 April 2021, confirmed that the complaint had been escalated and that it aimed to provide a response within 14 calendar days.
- The stage two complaint response was sent to the resident on 23 April 2021. The landlord informed him that it stood by its position as set out in the stage one response. The landlord further explained that he had been correctly charged for the rent due and was satisfied that he had not been overcharged.
- The landlord then informed the resident that he had exhausted its internal complaints process and advised him on the steps to take to bring his case to this Service should he remain dissatisfied.
- In an email to this Service sent on 22 June 2021, the resident explained the outstanding issue of the complaint was that the current calculation used by the landlord was no longer fit for purpose, as the multiplier used to calculate the total benefit to be paid in a financial year should be at least to two decimal places, rather than a whole number, in order to give a more accurate estimate of the benefits that would be paid to the landlord during the period. The current system would always slightly underestimate the amount of benefit that will be paid as it did not take into account that rather than receiving 13 benefit payments per year, as the landlord calculated from, a 14th payment would overlap the two financial years. This would result in the rent shortfall being over estimated, and leave the rent account in credit at the end of the financial year.
- As a resolution to the complaint, the resident requested that the landlord automatically refund rent accounts that were in credit at the end of the financial years and suggested that if it changed its benefit multiplier from 13 to 13.04, that this would result in a more accurate calculation of how much benefit would be paid within a twelve-month period.
Assessment and findings
Scope of Investigation
- It is vital to clarify that it is not within the remit of this Service to determine the system which landlords must use in the administration and calculations of rent. This is a matter within the governance and internal process of each landlord to decide. Thus, this report has assessed the landlord reasonableness of the landlord’s actions in responding to the resident’s complaint and whether it has adhered to any relevant policy.
- Upon being informed by the resident that he believed he had been overcharged for rent, the landlord opened a formal complaint and undertook an investigation. This was appropriate action for the landlord to take to ensure that it was in compliance with the tenancy agreement.
- When a resident’s rent payment is not completely covered by benefits payments, a landlord will need to calculate what percentage of the rent will remain outstanding and invoice the resident accordingly.
- In its stage one complaint response, the landlord explained that the method it used to calculate the shortfall of rent that the resident was liable to pay for the year once his benefit payments had been taken into account. The landlord further explained that this method was not exact and had resulted in the rent account being £27.72 in credit over the 2020/21 financial year.
- The landlord also informed the resident that it raised the issue internally to identify any changes it could make to its calculations to make them more accurate.
- Overall, the landlord has acted appropriately in this matter. It raised a complaint when the issue was raised by the resident, explained the procedures it used to calculate rent shortfall payments and refunded the credit in the rent account. All payments received into the rent account, directly from the resident or via benefits, were correctly recorded. Therefore, there is no evidence of service failure in how the landlord has administered the rent account.
- From the evidence provided it is not clear whether the landlord has concluded its review into how it calculates the rent shortfall, and if it had informed the resident of its findings. Therefore, it is recommended that the landlord write to the resident to inform it of the findings of its review into its rent shortfall calculations and what changes, if any, it has made.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in respect of how it administered the resident’s rent account.
- The landlord explained the procedures it used to calculate the rent shortfall during the financial year. It also refunded the credit from the resident’s rent account and undertook an internal review into its procedures to see if they could be made more accurate.
- If it has not done so already, it is recommended that the landlord write to the resident to inform it of the findings of its review into its rent shortfall calculations and what changes, if any, it has made as a result of the review.