Challenge to DWP decision on "use and occupation" charges

TV Edwards successfully challenged a Universal Credit decision to allow our client to obtain help with “use and occupation” charges whilst living in his late mother’s home and avoid a crippling debt.

We represent an occupier who is facing eviction from his family home. After his mother passed away, he continued to stay in his home of over 55 years. The landlord asked him to pay “use and occupation” charges whilst he continued to stay in the flat.

Our client applied for the housing element of Universal Credit to help him pay these charges. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided that he was not entitled to help with his housing costs as he was not being charged “rent” and was not the named tenant. The client asked if we could help him challenge this decision.

The challenge was in relation to the Universal Credit Regulations which do not specifically include provision for payment of use and occupation charges. We argued that the DWP rules were discriminatory as they disproportionately affect those who are elderly, very young or unwell and are likely to be liable for use and occupation charges. This is because such individuals, more so than any other group, tend to live with their parents until they have passed away and would then likely wish to succeed to the tenancy of the former tenants.

In response to our challenge, the DWP said that in fact they consider that the Universal Credit Regulations do allow for use and occupation charges to be paid. However, this is now discretionary unlike under the predecessor Housing Benefit Regulations.

The key part of the Universal Credit Regulations is schedule 1, paragraph 2 which covers what is payable:

2. “Rent payments” are such of the following as are not excluded by paragraph

(a) payments of rent;

(b) payments for a licence or other permission to occupy accommodation;

(c) mooring charges payable for a houseboat;

(d) in relation to accommodation which is a caravan or mobile home, payments in respect of the site on which the accommodation stands;

(e) contributions by residents towards maintaining almshouses (and essential services in them) provided by a housing association which is—

(i) a registered charity, or

(ii) an exempt charity within Schedule 3 to the Charities Act 2011.

The Department for Work and Pensions have stated that:

“…paragraph 2(b) of Schedule 1 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 (“the Regulations”) which includes as rent payments “payments for a licence or other permission to occupy accommodation”. If a claimant is charged use and occupation charges, then these payments may fall within this category. Whether a payment falls within this category will be decided on a case by case basis depending on the specific facts of the case.”

Following the DWP’s response our client was awarded the housing element for the full period they were entitled to them, clearing their arrears at the property.

We hope that this feature will be of use to other occupiers who find themselves in similar positions to our client, where they are facing large debts for non-payment of use and occupation charges, but where the DWP is refusing to award them the housing element of Universal Credit.

With special thanks to Rea Murray of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square for her assistance as counsel in this matter.