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THE HANDLING of appeals in housing benefit cases is unsatisfactory, according to the Council on Tribunals.
In a report published last week, the statutory watchdog on tribunal performance and procedures considered the new system for fixing levels of housing benefit and criticised the lack of a proper appeal system in resolving disputes.
Launching the report, council chair Lord Archer QC called for disputes to be decided by an independent appeal tribunal rather than by the Housing Benefit Review Board (HBRB). "In view of the moves in the Housing Benefit Amendment Regulations to have rents fixed by local authority rent officers, we must have an independent appeal system and we will be in dispute with the Department of Environment until this is met," he said.
Julie Payne, assistant in the litigation department at Trowers & Hamlins, which handles housing cases, said: "It is essential all appeals held must be decided by an independent group from the system that determined the original application. The administration of these regulations will promote a lack of confidence among members of the public who are placing their trust in the system."
Heather Johnson, adviser at the Hammersmith and Fulham Private Tenants Rights Project and a member of the Housing Benefit Review Board in Camden, said: "The only problem with the HBRB is that it does not have the power to agree or disagree with the rent officers' decision. Tenants should have access to the information upon which a rent officer's decision is made."