Appeal tribunal success £130,000 overpayment demand set aside.
Our client had a secure tenancy which commenced in 2013. He had been in receipt of Housing and Council Tax Benefit since June 2005. He received Incapacity Benefit and was now in receipt of Income Related Employment and Support Allowance.
His problem first arose when he received a letter telling him that his Housing and Council Tax Benefit had been suspended. As a result he had attended an interview under caution about the Housing Benefit and answered all questions. He was not represented by a lawyer. The allegation was that he had failed to declare alleged ownership of a property in North Africa when making a claim for Housing and Council Tax Benefit. The potential overpayment was about £130,000.
Interview under caution
In interview our client denied that he had ever owned any property in North Africa. He had a second interview with the DWP when he also answered all questions, He again denied owning property in North Africa.
Our client claimed that he was the victim of a malicious allegation by his ex wife. He said that the document being relied upon by the council has been prepared by his ex-wife or someone else on her behalf. Her motive being the acrimonious family case regarding child maintenance.
Eventually the DWP decided that no further action would be taken in relation to any criminal proceedings.
The overpayment claim
Our client received a letter dated advising that he had been overpaid Housing and Council Tax Benefit from 2005 to 2014. The council said this was a result of not declaring his alleged ownership of the property since 1995. They valued the property in excess of the upper capital limit of £16,000 raising an overpayment of £120,232.34 in Housing Benefit and £9,193.01 in Council Tax Benefit.
Moss & Co are instructed
We went through the documents and our client told us:
- His name is spelt wrong and the surname appears first.
- You have never heard of the address at 21 xxxxx Street.
- He did not hold nor were you entitled to hold an identification card in North Africa including that referenced 10xxx/9x/6xxxx.
- The property itself is not identified and merely refers to an area.
- The date of your alleged ownership appears to come from the same date as the identity card was issued.
Preparing the case
We set about preparing the case for the appeal tribunal hearing. Preparation included:
- A family member to attend the land registry office in North Africa to enquire whether they would release a certificate/confirmation that our client did not own property in to Moss and Co.
- Establish whether our clients last place of work in N Africa was still there to show his address at that time was not that claimed by the investigators.
- Authority for the release of clients file from the Algerian Consulate to Moss and Co.
- Locate and evidence clients the matriculation card issued in 2011, to establish identity.
- Obtain evidence of the change of place names from French to that of N African war heroes (the address was one attributed to the period of French occupation).
- Provide any water bills of other documents linking you to your correct family home address in N Africa.
Our client had a right to request a review under the Housing Benefit Regulations. This must be submitted within one month of the date of receipt of both the Housing and Council Tax Benefit Notices of overpayment. If upheld in full then the overpayments would be struck out and benefit would be reinstated immediately. On the other hand if the review was unsuccessful then we had to lodge an appeal to an independent Appeal Tribunal.
We advised that the council have assessed the capital value of a property which has not been identified other than by area. This procedure is clearly flawed. This is because a property cannot be valued without first being identified. We were therefore of the view that our client had good grounds to argue that the review should be upheld.
We wrote to the council setting out our client’s case and requesting that they withdraw the overpayment claim. Unsurprisingly, in view of the sums involved, they rejected our submissions.
Accordingly we issued proceedings in the Lower Tribunal against the overpayment notice. We prepared very lengthy submissions on fact and law. The case was listed on three occasions. Finally we succeeded in persuading the Tribunal that the evidence produced by the council could not be relied upon. That our clients account was the more credible. The result was that the appeal tribunal quashed the overpayment demand. Our clients benefit was restored. He is due to receive £10,000 in back dated benefit.