Another Storm A – Brewing over WBC …

Wirral vs SIL at the Court of Appeal on Jan 25/26.

“When You Walk Through A Storm….. You Get Wet”

  • A Wirral-based organisation called Salisbury Independent Living (SIL) provided accommodation and support for a number of vulnerable adults. 

  • SIL said that they provided ‘exempt accommodation’. The usual housing benefit rent restrictions do not apply to exempt accommodation (for further details of the nature of exempt accommodation see issue 47 of the Journal of Welfare Benefits Law). 

  • Claims for housing benefit were made to Wirral MBC by approximately 70 residents. The council did not make the decisions that SIL had hoped for. Wirral concluded that the accommodation was not exempt accommodation but, even if it was, many of the service charges included within the rent were ineligible for housing benefit. 

  • The dispute has been protracted having lasted for some 8 years. It is also potentially expensive, SIL arguing that some £3 million in housing benefit is owed. 

  • A number of the residents appealed, with SIL’s assistance, against Wirral MBC’s decisions. However about 8 residents had moved away and were not contactable. Another 2 were dead. 

  • The issue was whether SIL had the right to appeal against the decision on these former residents’ claims. The matter came before the Upper Tribunal. 

What did the Upper Tribunal decide? 

  • The Upper Tribunal decided that SIL did have a right of appeal. This meant that it could itself challenge the council’s housing benefit decisions in respect of the dead or missing claimants. The Upper Tribunal reasoned as follows. 

  • Legislation provides that a “person affected” by a housing benefit decision has a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Schedule 7, para. 6(3), Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000). 

  • Regulations set out persons who must be considered, for appeal purposes, to be persons affected by a housing benefit decision (reg. 3(1), Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2001). This did not include SIL. 

  • The fact that SIL fell outside the Regulations was not fatal to SIL’s case. This was because the Upper Tribunal held that the Regulations do not contain an exhaustive list of persons affected by a housing benefit decision. 

  • The Upper Tribunal decided that SIL was a “person affected” by the housing benefit decisions for the missing claimants. 

  • However, the benefits authorities have now been granted permission to appeal against the Upper Tribunal’s ruling. The appeal is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal towards the end of this year or at the beginning of 2012. 

Info Here

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