Universal Credit claimant told to repay £5,000 in benefits wins appeal over benefits bill

A UNIVERSAL credit claimant who was told to repay over £5,000 in benefits has won her appeal against the bill.

Tina Newman, 40, was told she needed to repay £5,372 of the housing element of her Universal Credit because she didn't have a tenancy agreement or signed contract.

According to the i newspaper, Tina put a claim in for Universal Credit to help pay her rent when she lost her job in website sales at the start of the pandemic.

She was sub-letting a room in a shared house, but was later told by the government she wasn't eligible for the money as she didn't have the documents to prove her tenancy.

She had been paying rent to her housemate, who had passed it on to the landlord.

But she didn't realise she was living in an unlicensed House in Multiple Occupation, meaning she was not eligible for a Universal Credit payment to cover her £500 a month rent.

Renters have to provide their tenancy agreement to get help with housing costs if they claim Universal Credit.

However, the government suspended parts of the verification process at the beginning of the pandemic to speed up the process.

The Department for Work and Pensions then said in July this year that it would be looking into Universal Credit claims that were approved without the usual checks during lockdown.

It said that claimants would have to repay the housing benefit help if they couldn't provide a tenancy agreement.

Unable to provide this evidence, Tina was ordered to pay back thousands of pounds as a result.

But after she appealed the decision alongside housing charities Safer Renting and Shelter and no longer has to pay up.

She told the i newspaper: "I am so thankful. I am proud of myself for not giving in. I was entitled to receive housing benefits."

A Government spokesperson said: "Ms Newman requested a mandatory reconsideration, and this determined that sufficient evidence was provided to prove rent liability for her housing costs.

"This meant that we were able to remove the vast majority of the overpayment on her account."

It comes as the £20 Universal Credit uplift was axed yesterday – leaving millions of Brits worried about how they'll be able to afford their bills.

Campaign groups have warned that the cut could be “catastrophic” to struggling families.

Save the Children has warned that four in five households receiving Universal Credit will find it harder to buy food if the cut goes ahead.

Although a £500million Household Support Fund was unveiled yesterday allowing Brits to apply for free cash to help with food and bills, experts say that it won't be enough to plug the gap left by the Universal Credit cut.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation deputy director Helen Barnard said the help "doesn't come close" to helping millions of families struggling to get by following the cut.

How to appeal a benefit decision

If your application for a benefit has been turned down, or you don't think you've been offered enough cash, you can appeal the decision.

You first need to ask for a “mandatory reconsideration notice”.

This is where the DWP looks at the decision again.

If you are still unhappy with this outcome, you can then appeal to an independent tribunal.

You must send your appeal form in within one month of the date shown on the mandatory reconsideration notice.

Be warned that it usually takes up to six months for an appeal to be heard by the tribunal.

Before it gets to the tribunal, the DWP can make a revision to the original claim.

If you’re unhappy with the decision you get from the tribunal, you may be able to get the decision cancelled – known as “set aside”. You’ll be told how to do this at the time.

You may also be able to appeal to the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) if you think the tribunal wasn’t able to give you proper reasons for its decision, or back up the decision with facts, or if it failed to apply the law properly.

You can get advice and support for appealing a decision for free from organisations like Citizens Advice and Benefits and Work.

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