Old time readers of this blog may remember the terrible time back in September 2012 when I was called to a meeting with Hillingdon where they announced they were stopping my housing benefit. Their decision was based on their belief that I should sell my share of the old marital home which was occupied by my unwell wife. At that time, Steven and I were living in a privately rented flat in Uxbridge and the housing benefit was meeting just over 1/3rd of the rent.
We then had a most horrendous year of uncertainty and distress as we knew that unless the council accepted Steven as a tenant for social housing we would be homeless. I went through the humiliating experience of having to represent myself at the Lower Tier Tribunal whilst Hillingdon came along with a barrister! I lost the appeal but Twittersphere sprung into action and assembled a legal team to represent me at the Upper Tier Tribunal. In the meantime, between November 2012 and August 2013, Hillingdon paid a proportion of the rent from their homelessness prevention fund and come August when our tenancy ended, they did a deal with the landlady for us to stay there until they found a place for Steven. It was a horrible time. Steven was really distressed by the uncertainty of where he might be living and it tapped into his big fear that he would be taken away to the assessment and treatment unit again. I found it hard to reassure him when I needed reassurance myself.
Then in November 2013, the council found Steven his lovely house in Cowley. Although the tenancy is classified as a “secure temporary accommodation” we are still here and intend to stay put until the council tells us we have to move.
In August last year, the Upper Tier tribunal heard the appeal and judged in our favour. They passed the matter back to Hillingdon to reconsider their decision. Sadly, between the first decision and the Upper Tier decision, my wife died, meaning the house that had been at the centre of all the contention was now solely mine. I have since brought a great flat which I use for my counselling practice and my respite evenings.
Today, I received a letter from Hillingdon informing me that they are setting aside their original decision as they have followed the Upper Tier tribunal and decided that the old marital home was never reasonably available to me. Furthermore, they are saying that the money they did pay during the year of potential homelessness is to be disregarded as it is classed as a “voluntary payment”. That means they have to pay me the full housing benefit that I was entitled to for the whole year.
I don’t know what to think. In many ways, things turned out for the better as a result of them making an incorrect decision. Steven loves his new home and he could be settled here for many years to come. I know have my own place through the most awful circumstances and won’t ever have to rely on housing benefit again.
But it also strikes me, that like 2010, the council erred in law and set off a set of circumstances that changed our life in a way that wouldn’t have happened if they had got it correct.
Two acts of unlawful decisions in three years seems to me a massive interference by the State into the mapping of our lives. So, the good news of today’s letter is tinged with some sadness and despair that we have been so vulnerable to wrong decisions. It is a victory but it has come with quite a cost.