Title of Payment: Supplementary Welfare Allowance - Rent Supplement - Supplementary Welfare Allowance –Rent Supplement - cohabitation –sufficient means - appeal – fair procedures – natural justice – appeal allowed
This case concerns the decision by the Department of Social Protection (the Department) to stop the Appellant’s Rent Supplement claim with effect from 5 July 2016.
By way of written submission, in August 2016 FLAC made representations to the Minister for Social Protection in view of the particular circumstances that gave rise to the payment being stopped. It was the position of FLAC, on behalf of the Appellant, that a decision to reinstate the payment should be expedited. This assertion was grounded in the contention that the Department had failed to adhere to the legal requirements of natural justice and fair procedures; accordingly, the Appellant’s payment was stopped without just cause. It was asserted that the matter required immediate attention in view of the risk that the Appellant could lose his home due to inability to pay the rent.
Summarised below is the chronology of relevant matters as evident from the record, and the Appellant’s account. A full record was not available prior to the matter being determined.
1. The Appellant asserted that in April 2016 a Social Welfare Inspector (SWI) attended the residence of his former partner, with whom he has a child. The Appellant was present at the time. The Appellant’s payment was initially stopped in May, the Appellant contending that he received no written notice as to the reasons why this decision was made. The Appellant contacted the Department and he was advised that he should complete a new application. The Appellant did so.
2. On 10 June 2016 the Appellant contacted the Rent Section of the Department requesting an update as regards his rent supplement. He noted that his landlord was now threatening eviction.
3. On 13 June 2016, the Department wrote to the Appellant by way of email informing him that his payment was suspended because the rent section had been notified that he had moved address.
4. On 13 June 2016 the Appellant responded by way of email stating that he had never moved premises and has been living at his current address since December 2010. The Appellant requested that the Department provide him with the reasons as to why his Rent Supplement was suspended.
5. On 13 June 2016 a letter was issued to the Appellant stating that his claim for Rent Supplement had been disallowed and was now closed as per the attached refusal form (which was dated 17 June 2016) . It subsequently emerged that the reasons cited did not refer to the Appellant.
6. On 27 June 2016 the Appellant emailed the SWAO asking for confirmation of whether the office had received his appeal. The Appellant stated that he had appealed the decision dated 13 June as referred at point 3. He noted that he was in arrears by two months rent as of that date.
7. On 28 June 2016 the Department wrote to the Appellant stating that his rent supplement claim had been closed in error due to the fact that there had been a mistake as to his identity. The Department further stated that his payment had been reinstated and arrears in respect of the missed payments would be awarded to him.
8. On 1 July 2016 the Appellant emailed the Social Welfare Appeals Office and stated that the matter had been resolved.
9. On 1 July 2016 a further letter was issued to the Appellant from the Department stating that on foot of information received from the SWI, it appeared that he was living with his former partner and that his rent supplement had been suspended until a final decision has been made by the relevant unit. The letter requested that the Appellant make immediate contact with the Department. On 4 July 2016 the Appellant contacted the Department by way of telephone call and was informed that it was open to him to appeal the decision.
10. On 5 July 2016 the Appellant received an unaddressed letter stating that his rent assistance was disallowed for the following reasons:
SI No 412 of 2007 Part 3 Article 11(1): not established as residing at the property.
If your circumstances change you may reapply to the Higher Executive Officer. If you are dissatisfed with the decision you may make an appeal setting out the grounds for your appeal.
11. On 12 July 2016 the Minister for Social Protection wrote to a politician who had made representations on his behalf, stating the following:
[…]as you know Mr… rent supplement was suspended as it had come to the Department’s attention that he was cohabiting with …
Following a recent Social Welfare Inspector’s report it has been established by the department that Mr …and Ms…’s living arrangements at …may be defined as cohabitation. During the course of the investigation Mr… stated that the wanted to hold on to the address at …. As he would have nowhere to go, if he had a row with his partner and was terrified of being homeless.
The rent unit were advised of the report on 5 July 2016 and Mr … was issued with a decision to disallow his Rent Supplement on the same day on the grounds that he is not residing at the property. Mr… was also advised of his right to appeal this decision if he so wishes.
12. On 18 July 2016 the politician emailed the SWAO on behalf of the Appellant stating that both the Appellant and his former partner had informed him that they were not cohabiting. He asked for the matter to be dealt with as a matter of urgency in light of the risk of homelessness for the Appellant.