Dear God this is stupid

You’ve got to give the local council one month’s notice that you’re about to die:

Here’s how it works. Pensioners on low incomes are entitled to a range of benefits, including council tax benefit, which averages £728 a year, and housing benefit, which averages £48 a week, according to Age UK. These benefits are typically claimed by elderly folk who rely purely on the state pension for income, as they have little or no savings to their name.

If they are on full housing benefits, these pensioners have been deemed too poor to afford to pay rent. Most also receive help with bills and care costs, if they need it.

But on the day they die, these elderly people are stripped of these benefits and are no longer entitled to a penny of help from the state. In spite of this rule, however, local councils write into rental agreements that tenants living alone must give a minimum of four weeks’ notice before they “vacate” council houses and sheltered homes.

In the case of a tenant who has died, the full market-value rent is payable for these four weeks. For someone living in the average one-bedroom council flat, this means £500 (one month’s rent) will be taken from their estate and paid to the council.

Hang them all. No, seriously, no mercy at all. Someone, somewhere, thought this was a good idea and the 6 million people who work for the State haven’t intervened to point out that it’s ludicrous. Therefore hang them all. Every last man Jack of ’em.

47 comments on “Dear God this is stupid

  1. Funny, I don’t recall the ‘Guardian’ or ‘Indy’ ever mentioning this in any of their interminable articles on the Byzantine twists of the benefits system, and how they drive the poor to penury or theft…

  2. OK its a stupid policy but is it actually enforced. There are no examples of it actually happening in the article.

  3. If the pensioner has no savings and is living on benefits, would they actually have £500 in their estate for the council to take?

  4. You think that’s bad, at least it’s a simple rule. Take a look at the new residence guidance from HMRC (RDR3). If you die you need to do some careful calculations to work out if you were deemed resident in the UK or not that tax year.

  5. Two points: (i) if the council re-let the flat then they cannot charge the previous occupier rent for any period after re-letting and they are obliged to make best efforts to do so; (ii) the council can only take money from people who have got some.
    If someone has got a month’s rent sitting in their bank account, then the council will charge rent for the period that the flat is unoccupied (subject to the four week limit) to the person’s estate. If they have nothing then the council cannot take it.
    It’s mean but probably driven by the combination of three sets of regulations, each of which look (to a bureaucrat) reasonable in isolation.
    “Hang them all” seems a tad OTT in this case.

  6. “If the pensioner has no savings and is living on benefits, would they actually have £500 in their estate for the council to take?”

    Just because you are on benefits doesn’t mean you can have no savings. I knew an old chap who lived in an old peoples bungalow who was on all sorts of benefits (incl disability ones) who had built up quite a little nest egg by the time he’d died. He didn’t have 2 pennies to rub together when he moved into the house. At one point he had saved so much that it would have affected his benefits, as it got close to the cut off point for savings. My mother was involved with helping him (he was a bit simple and couldn’t deal with bank accounts etc) and in order to prevent his benefits being cut she spent some of the money on items for him – white goods etc. He lived like a tramp, but in a house, so never spent anywhere near the money he got.

  7. 77,

    > probably driven by the combination of three sets of regulations, each of which look (to a bureaucrat) reasonable in isolation.

    I’m sorry, I thought we were paying through the nose to have the state run well. If it’s just a bunch of rubber-stamping monkeys incapable of looking at the implications of their own actions, can I have my money back, please?

    And would anyone accept that excuse from bankers?

  8. Eddy.

    When my mother died last year, I paid the full market rent on her council bungalow for the two weeks that covered the period after her death and the end of the council rent cycle.

    In effect, this wasn’t quite what was exposed in this article and had nothing to do with giving four weeks notice of end of tenancy but was repayment of the Housing Benefit she’d received for a four-week period in advance and, obviously, was not eligible for on her death.

    Since we cleared her bungalow within the period of her tenancy and didn’t extend the tenancy beyond the period already paid for by Housing Benefit, there was no further need for rent.

    In my case, I felt initially a little aggrieved at this bureaucratic niggle – the money was no great loss to me – but it’s hard to argue that her HB should have extended beyond her death any more than her pension and other benefits which also ceased on her passing.

  9. > it’s hard to argue that her HB should have extended beyond her death

    Quite easy, actually.

    Firstly, this particular benefit isn’t real money; it’s an accounting fiction. The state “give” you money for you to “pay” to the state as rent in a house owned by the state. There is no actual money changing hands here, so nothing that really needs to be paid “back”. (It’s similar to the NI contributions you “pay” when you’re on the dole.) There is an argument about asset optimisation, sure, the council house being a wasted resource if it sits empty for a few weeks. But anyone who’s had anything to do with the council house system can tell you that properties routinely sit empty for long periods anyway due to nothing more than bureaucratic incompetence, so I see no good reason for those same bureaucrats to crack down on this one cause of surely a small minority of the empty properties. Besides, deaths take more cleaning up than just removing the furniture: there are various quite reasonable health & safety regulations about the disposal of biological materials which mean the council usually can’t move someone into the property the day after the previous tenant’s died anyway.

    I would add that, given that it’s an accounting fiction, there’s no particular reason for housing benefit to be “paid” in advance when the recipient is in a council house. If the council are giving them a house and making some book-keeping entries to pretend they’re being paid for it with their own money, they can pick whatever timeframe they like. If the council’s accountants insist on making this fake payment look like it’s four weeks in advance, why should that mean people in the real world end up owing them money?

  10. Who should pay for that period? If the deceased’s estate has the money, they may be cash poor but when goods such as jewelry are valued quite wealthy. Why should the tax payer pay for the inheritors to benefit from this period? They are benefiting from the time of death.

  11. SQ2

    Well, you’re quite clearly determined to be outraged. As someone who ‘paid back’ two weeks HB to cover two weeks rent, I’m not.

  12. 6 million is way too high. British state cruelty is a manifestation of the Milgram Effect – about two thirds of people will torture someone if ordered to do so by an authority figure. So one only has to whack the 50 thousand or so order-givers.

  13. It’s interesting to look at the why of why Tim’s all for hanging.
    In the position of landlord, the council’s no different from any other landlord. There’s a contract with the tenant & performance of that contract falls due to the estate of the deceased. There’s no difference to a landlord in the private sector, who shouldn’t expect to suffer a commercial loss in the circumstances. Barclaycard don’t tear up your statement if you snuff it.
    In the position of the benefits system, they’ve been paying the deceased an income because the deceased haven’t been able to provide their own source of income. I’m sure, as an employer, absent any contractual arrangements, I wouldn’t relish having to pay an employee who failed to turn up by virtue of being dead. Likewise, I wouldn’t consider myself liable for their outstanding contractual commitments. I’m not picking up their Barclaycard tab. No sir!
    So if we move the whole thing over into the private sector, it’s the estate of the deceased meets the commitments & the beneficiaries don’t enjoy money that isn’t theirs by right.So the why of the why is why Tim thinks the beneficiaries of Gran’s will should be better off simply because Gran lived off the State?

  14. This doesn’t just apply to council tenants. In fact if anything, they get off lightly compared to private sector tenants.

    If you’ve signed a 12-month Assured Shorthold Tenancy, and you die in the first month, then the landlord has the right to the remaining 11 months of rent payments.

    Everybody is up in arms when Bogcaster Borough Council mistakenly overcharges by a tenner, but nobody gives a toss with the far more ruthless (though legal) behaviour exhibited by many private landlords.

  15. The private landlords aren’t acting in our name, and are probably less given tp preening about social justice and whatnot.

  16. Andrew makes the same point as I do. Almost.
    And to illustrate:
    I’m currently considering the entering into agreement on a long term tenancy on a property. I’ll require the agreement to be drawn up providing continuity of occupation for a number of years. That’s to suit the tenant’s needs. The downside is, of course, that contract will bind the estate of the tenant in the event of their demise & we’re talking a considerable amount of dosh, here.
    But there’s nothing “ruthless” in the terms to the landlord. Any more than it’ll be “ruthless” of the tenant to fail to expire during the period of the tenancy & so free up the property for the landlord.

  17. bnis,

    > the council’s no different from any other landlord.

    Surely the entire point of council houses is that yes, they are different. Otherwise, why do they exist?

    BwaB,

    > Why should the tax payer pay for the inheritors to benefit from this period?

    They aren’t paying. The only thing taxpayers pay for is the cost of keeping a council house briefly empty. They pay this all the time anyway, regardless of anyone dying.

    More to the point, taxpayers pay all the time for council houses being empty or uninhabitable due to negligence and/or deliberate vandalism by their tenants. As long as that’s going on, why crack down on the scourge of people inconsiderately dying? Weird priorities.

    > They are benefiting from the time of death.

    In what way? Unless the inheritors are moving into the vacated property and living rent-free for four weeks, how do they benefit? Considering the typical length of rental agreements, I doubt that’s even possible — I mean, they could move in, sure, but they couldn’t save a month’s rent elsewhere while they do so. And they can’t use the asset of the council house as collateral or anything. I suppose they could illegally sublet it for four weeks the moment their gran dies — I’m cynical enough to be sure that’s happening, but I doubt it’s an epidemic. That aside, where is this benefit you posit?

    > If the deceased’s estate has the money, they may be cash poor but when goods such as jewelry are valued quite wealthy.

    I take the apparently radical view that, if you are going to have a welfare state, it should treat the poor better than the rich. Inheritance tax has a threshold of £325K. But people who have been assessed as too poor to afford to pay rent should have their heirlooms confiscated by the state? Fuck right off.

    Geoff,

    > Well, you’re quite clearly determined to be outraged.

    Ha! This is barely registering on my outrageometer. I agree that it’s wrong, but it’s also pretty bloody typical.

    > As someone who ‘paid back’ two weeks HB to cover two weeks rent, I’m not.

    The fact that the amounts involved are so small as to not bother you is surely a good argument for the council not to claim it.

  18. Andrew,

    > This doesn’t just apply to council tenants. In fact if anything, they get off lightly compared to private sector tenants.

    They’re supposed to. That is why council houses exist.

    > If you’ve signed a 12-month Assured Shorthold Tenancy, and you die in the first month, then the landlord has the right to the remaining 11 months of rent payments.

    Yes, and, in return for that agreement, the landlord offers you more favourable terms than if you were renting on a rolling month-by-month basis. Similarly, in return for being subsidised by the taxpayer, the council are supposed to be offering better terms than the private sector.

    > Everybody is up in arms when Bogcaster Borough Council mistakenly overcharges by a tenner, but nobody gives a toss with the far more ruthless (though legal) behaviour exhibited by many private landlords.

    We’re not discussing mistaken overcharging here. We’re discussing deliberate policy.

    And I think most people recognise that private landlords — love them or hate them — have to make money or they go out of business. The council don’t. We are in fact paying the council through the nose specifically so that they don’t have to do everything at a profit or even break even, so that they can then offer poor people better conditions than the private sector can. Obviously.

  19. B(n)is,
    Yes, you’ve made the same point as me. It’s only “ruthless” in the court of public opinion; the law is quite clear, and we’re in danger of straying back into Ritchie’s territory of morality vs law.

    Sq2,
    “Otherwise, why do they exist?”
    For historical reasons. Peter Rachman, wars, slum clearances, etc. You wouldn’t invent council housing today though.

  20. > For historical reasons. Peter Rachman, wars, slum clearances, etc. You wouldn’t invent council housing today though.

    True, but that’s rather dodging the question. Are council houses supposed to offer exactly the same conditions as the private sector?

  21. SQ2

    “The fact that the amounts involved are so small as to not bother you is surely a good argument for the council not to claim it.”

    Not really. Many a mickle maks a muckle.

    As in uncollected Council Tax, the amounts may be individually small but when Bogminster BC reports £2m or whatever in uncollected CT you can bet it’s a big enough sum to be seen as evidence of slackness on the Borough’s part.

    And it it would be.

  22. @SQ2
    “bnis,

    > the council’s no different from any other landlord.

    Surely the entire point of council houses is that yes, they are different. Otherwise, why do they exist?”

    They exist as a way of councils, as an arm of the State, covering the capital cost of providing housing to those the State deems as needing housing.

    “I take the apparently radical view that, if you are going to have a welfare state, it should treat the poor better than the rich. But people who have been assessed as too poor to afford to pay rent should have their heirlooms confiscated by the state? Fuck right off.”

    But this isn’t about poor people, is it? The poor person’s brown bread. They have no possessions. We have no idea what the financial position of the beneficiaries is. But you are making an excellent case for the abolition of IHT.

  23. Two minutes with google suggests that some councils insist on the four weeks’ notice, but more do not – “we usually ask for four weeks notice but we will obviously be more flexible when a tenant has died”.

    I suppose that in the private sector some landlords insist on rent being paid after a tenant’s death, as stipulated by tenancy law, and others do not.

    Tim’s complaint seems to be that councils are behaving like businessmen.

    Housing benefit is funded by the DWP, and councils have no discretion to continue paying it after the claimant’s death. I look forward to reading UKIP’s manifesto commitment to use taxpayers’ money to give housing benefit to dead people.

  24. Contracts don’t expire on death do they? Just because I die doesn’t mean my mortgage interest stops. I sign a contract, I have to honour that contract, either in person, or in the event of my death, my estate does. Legally you haven’t died until the estate is finalised. Look at the situation with Jimmy Savile. He’s long gone, but people are still suing him, via his estate.

    If you die, and there’s rent outstanding, whether to a private or public sector landlord, and your estate has the means to pay it, then you have to pay it. Its what you agreed to when you were alive. You (or your successors) don’t get to tear up the agreement just because you snuff it. Thats what an estate is – the collective sum of all the assets and liabilities the deceased has accrued during their life. If the heirs don’t want the liabilities, don’t accept the assets. You can repudiate a bequest you know.

  25. Sq2,
    >> Everybody is up in arms when Bogcaster Borough Council mistakenly overcharges by a tenner, but nobody gives a toss with the far more ruthless (though legal) behaviour exhibited by many private landlords.
    > We’re not discussing mistaken overcharging here. We’re discussing deliberate policy.

    Same with private landlords – it’s a deliberate policy to charge the tenants’ estate for the full 12 months of rent, for a home which could (in most cases) be re-let to another tenant.

    > Similarly, in return for being subsidised by the taxpayer, the council are supposed to be offering better terms than the private sector.
    Actually, the council’s housing department isn’t subsidised. It’s hardly surprising, but renting council houses actually generates cash for the council, even after paying for repairs and covering void periods. Same goes for Housing Associations. Their housing stock is effectively an endowment fund.

    >Are council houses supposed to offer exactly the same conditions as the private sector?
    In the past no; but over the last decade both the Labour and Coalition governments have taken steps to bring the two into line. (New) Labour laid the groundwork by transferring council houses into new Arms-Length Management Organisations; the Coalition continued with the idea that new social rents should be set at 80% of the local free-market rent (getting a 20% discount may sound like a bargain, but in most places that represents a significant increase in rent).

    There’ll always be a place for social housing: for the disabled, the elderly, ex-convicts, former drug addicts: anyone who isn’t well-served by the free market. But the vast bulk of it could indeed be offered on the same conditions as private-sector housing.

  26. Interesting isn’t it?

    After a while, stories like this generate an immediate reaction of outrage, keyboards rattled in the rush to comment and some vented spleen.

    But then gradually some rationality appears, (qv bnis, Jim, PaulB, Andrew M et al) which suggests that posters should take their time before committing post to this board or any other.

    After a while that initial knee-jerk looks a tad foolish.

  27. Geoff,

    > After a while that initial knee-jerk looks a tad foolish.

    You may have noticed that my knee-jerk reaction included a link to a piece I wrote in 2004.

    Again, for all the people talking about this money and who should pay it: there is no money. When the state “pay” you money which you then use to “pay” the state in order to use something owned by the state, what we are discussing is not actual money but arbitrary entries in a ledger. I’m frankly surprised that commenters round these parts might need that explained.

    Andrew,

    > Actually, the council’s housing department isn’t subsidised. It’s hardly surprising, but renting council houses actually generates cash for the council

    But does it generate money for the state?

    There are of course plenty of council tenants in work, receiving money from the private sector and paying that money to the council. That is revenue generation. There are also lots of council tenants who are either unemployed or retired, who are receiving benefits from central government and paying that benefit to local government. That is not revenue generation in any real-world sense.

    I have no idea what the aggregate figures are — maybe, across the board, council housing generates revenue, rather than merely moving it from one arm of the state to another. But what we’re discussing here is specifically council tenants who die while they are pensioners on full housing benefits — that’s what the article was about. They are absolutely not generating revenue for the state.

  28. SQ2

    “You may have noticed that my knee-jerk reaction included a link to a piece I wrote in 2004.”

    That’s a long time to suffer a bee in your bonnet.

  29. Sq2,
    Plenty of private tenants receive housing benefit from central government, which is paid (directly or indirectly) to their landlords. This benefit also stops upon the claimants death; leading to exactly the same situation as for council tenants, with the added complication that there can be many months (or even years) left on the lease.

    My point is that the local council’s housing department are being berated despite them actually offering more generous terms than most private landlords. That point stands, regardless of who is footing the bill.

  30. Geoff,

    > That’s a long time to suffer a bee in your bonnet.

    Sorry, what’s your criticism here? That I’m making a knee-jerk reaction without thinking or that I’ve considered the issue for too long?

    Andrew,

    > My point is that the local council’s housing department are being berated despite them actually offering more generous terms than most private landlords. That point stands, regardless of who is footing the bill.

    And my points stand too.

    Firstly, “better than the private sector” is not the right standard for the welfare state. How about we make housing benefit £6 a year? That’s better than the zero housing benefit the private sector gives you, but it’s not remotely OK. The taxpayers who pay for the welfare state are perfectly entitled to demand certain standards. Not billing poor pensioners when they die doesn’t seem like that insane a standard.

    Secondly, in these cases, there is no bill to foot.

  31. I should add that we wouldn’t in fact accept this from private landlords. If a private landlord moved some money from one of their own accounts to another of their own accounts, wrote one of their tenants’ names in a ledger against that transfer, and then claimed that those book-keeping entries proved that that tenant owed them money, there’s not a court in the land would back them up.

    Of course, the analogy doesn’t make a lot of sense when applied to a private landlord, almost as if the welfare state operates to a completely different model to the private sector or something.

  32. One point missed.

    If the T was in a Private Rental and died while receiving Housing Benefit, the Council would be claiming the ‘excess’ back from the LL a few days later, since the entitlement ends when the T ceases to occupy the house.

    Occupation depends on the Council believing when the T was living there.

    in different circs it is routine for the Council to be told the wrong date, eg if T needs it to pay for the new house on moving and there is an overlap.

  33. @PaulB
    “Two minutes with google suggests that some councils insist on the four weeks’ notice, but more do not – “we usually ask for four weeks notice but we will obviously be more flexible when a tenant has died”.

    Then perhaps we should be hanging some councils for being so “flexible” with our money?

    “I suppose that in the private sector some landlords insist on rent being paid after a tenant’s death, as stipulated by tenancy law, and others do not.”
    (This’ll also address a point Andrew makes above.)
    Unless there’s conditions of tenancy, the estate will own the rights of tenancy to dispose of as it will. That’s an asset.

    In the illustrated case I’m considering negotiating, post mortem residual tenancy rights is one of the terms to negotiate. On what terms will the landlord undertake to dissolve the remaining tenancy to re-let. What are the tax implications of the result.

  34. bnis,

    > Unless there’s conditions of tenancy, the estate will own the rights of tenancy to dispose of as it will. That’s an asset.

    I’m pretty sure council housing does come with conditions of tenancy. You’re not allowed to live in a council house unless you meet eligibility criteria and have been assigned that house by the council — note that council tenants who have got pissed off with the inefficiency of the council and have therefore organised informal committees who move eligible tenants into empty properties are regarded by councils as criminals. So, in the case of council housing, the empty property is not a legally usable asset.

  35. Oh that’s entirely true, SQ2.
    But the residual rights of tenancy will include the housing of the deceased’s possessions, awaiting disposal, until the end of the tenancy.
    We can well imagine the headline “Council throws Grannie’s possessions out on the pavement the day after she died.”
    Hang ’em!

  36. “Otherwise, why do they exist?”

    They exist to buy votes for the Labour Party. Herbert Morrison was quite explicit on this point. (A grandfather of mortgage-fraud Peter Mandelson.)

  37. dearieme,

    > They exist to buy votes for the Labour Party.

    Fair enough. So could they do it properly, please? This policy is an obvious vote-loser.

    bnis,

    > the residual rights of tenancy will include the housing of the deceased’s possessions, awaiting disposal, until the end of the tenancy.

    Agreed. But that doesn’t really save the inheritors money; it just provides them a bit of time to sort things out — emptying the house costs (near enough) the same whether they do it today or next week.. Your argument was:

    > So the why of the why is why Tim thinks the beneficiaries of Gran’s will should be better off simply because Gran lived off the State?

    Where are they better off? They receive no money, no asset, and the taxpayer pays nothing (or nothing more than they would anyway).

  38. b(n)is,
    > Unless there’s conditions of tenancy, the estate will own the rights of tenancy to dispose of as it will. That’s an asset.

    Most tenancy agreements include a clause barring sub-letting. That makes the unexpired tenancy a liability, not an asset.

  39. “In the case of a tenant who has died, the full market-value rent is payable for these four weeks.”

    Has anyone seen a shred of evidence that this is actually true? As far as I’m aware, that whole article is based on a mistaken reading of the rental agreements.

  40. @SQ2
    ” But that doesn’t really save the inheritors money; it just provides them a bit of time to sort things out — emptying the house costs (near enough) the same whether they do it today or next week.. Your argument was:”
    You’d think different if you’d had to pick up the bill for storage rental incurred at the end of a tenancy, when you haven’t had time to sort things out. And transport costs to storage..
    Strewth! Eyewatering.

  41. It’s curious how some people believe those who intersect with the State should somehow be insulated from the realities the rest of us confront.
    Remember. As I pointed out above, the dead person in question is in fact dead. Fallen off their perch but not resting. We’re actually talking about the beneficiaries. In one case, of my knowledge, the beneficiary of “Poor old Gran – lived on benefits – died in a council flat – aah” was a multi-millionaire complete with Roller & second & third foreign homes..

  42. > It’s curious how some people believe those who intersect with the State should somehow be insulated from the realities the rest of us confront.

    Well, duh. Is that not practically a definition of the welfare state?

    I believe that the welfare state is too damn big and expensive. But, given that I’m paying what I am for it, I also want it to do what it’s supposed to. Its selling point is that it decreases hardship for the poor, the disabled, etc. I want it either to succeed at that or to give me my damn money back.

    > As I pointed out above, the dead person in question is in fact dead. … We’re actually talking about the beneficiaries.

    So set inheritance tax for everyone at 100%, no exceptions or allowances, and be done with it.

    As The Telegraph point out, the current system is 40% IHT for a smallish number of wealthy people and ~100% effective IHT for twice as many poor people. We’re not talking about insulating those on benefits from the realities the rest of us face; it’s quite the opposite.

  43. But SQ2, the Welfare State’s already done what the Welfare State’s supposed to do in the case of Granny. Fed & housed her ’til she handed in her food pail. Obligation discharged.
    Your argument has all the marks of ” iPhones & XBox 4s should be on bennies coz…. coz, innit?” TM Daily Mirror

    Out of interest, the Spanish IHT system seems to vary the tax dependent on the wealth of the beneficiaries at receipt. Fairer?

  44. > iPhones & XBox 4s should be on bennies coz…. coz, innit?

    Yes, taking the savings of the poor in order to “retrieve” money that was never actually paid is exactly like that.

  45. > Out of interest, the Spanish IHT system seems to vary the tax dependent on the wealth of the beneficiaries at receipt. Fairer?

    My view on IHT is that it’s a useful temporary measure when moving from a society run and owned by the old aristocracy to a modern democracy, and, once its job has been done (which, in the UK, it has), it should be scrapped.

  46. If you think that is bad, look at the BBC’s licence fees for the over-75s. The licence isn’t “free”. The taxpayer pays for it. Normally when a licence holder dies the BBC will refund the unused period of the license (rounded down to the nearest month) on application by the licence holder’s estate. But in the case of the over-75s, the government doesn’t bother and the estate has no right to the money because the deceased didn’t pay for the licence, so the BBC simply keeps an extra £50m or so a year.

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