Following the judgment of the Law Lords in the case of Heffernan—R (on the application of Heffernan) v the Rent Service—on Wednesday 30 July 2008, the Government will lay amendments to the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Order 1997 and the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) (Scotland) Order 1997 in order to clarify the rules that enable rent officers to define the local rental market areas which help determine entitlement to housing benefit.
The way in which the geographical areas, or localities, for assessing housing benefit are determined has a direct impact on the amount of benefit individual customers receive. If applied, the judgment would result in a dramatic increase in the number of localities nationally, as each would be based on a limited number of neighbourhoods. These new locality boundaries would not necessarily be the same as those that existed before the rent services carried out their most recent reviews of boundaries and could result in a large number of low-income tenants finding that housing benefit would no longer cover their rent. Without amendment to the Rent Officers Order, this would now happen automatically.
This is not our policy intent which is why amendments will be laid at the earliest opportunity.
The routine locality reviews that were undertaken by the rent services in 2006-07 under the Rent Officers Order resulted in fewer localities across the country as a whole. These reviews were undertaken in consultation with local authorities, who have access to a discretionary fund to compensate individual tenants in hardship cases. The vast majority of the new boundaries were agreed by local authorities. The amendments of the Rent Officers Order will enable the rent services to review the boundaries in those localities where local consensus was not achieved. In any year, the rent services are committed to reviewing 25 per cent. of all locality boundaries.