Key terms and concepts in HB decision-making

1. In this section, we identify the key terms and concepts to be found in the legislation governing HB administration and decision-making.

Responsibility for HB administration

2. The housing benefit scheme is administered by the appropriate housing authority or local authority (“the Council.”)1Social Security Administration Act 1992, s 134(1)

3. One council may agree to handle housing benefit functions on behalf of another council. This is a way of delegating responsibility, potentially to streamline or simplify processes or because one council has the resources or expertise to better handle those functions.

4. Two or more councils may agree to the joint discharge of their housing benefit functions. They can choose to work together in administering these functions or even establish a joint committee for this purpose. This may be done to improve efficiency, share resources, or for other logistical reasons.2Social Security Administration Act 1992, s 134(5)

5. These powers do not exclude or override the general provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 or the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 as they apply to the housing benefit functions of the council.3Social Security Administration Act 1992, s 134(5A) Those general provisions could relate to a range of matters like the structure and governance of local authorities, decision-making processes, public accountability, and more. In essence, councils are given flexibility on how they manage housing benefit functions, whether individually, jointly, or by delegation, while ensuring that they still operate within the overarching framework of the Local Government Acts.

Responsibility for HB decision-making

6. Unless the Regulations themselves specify a different procedure or decision-maker, the Council is the initial adjudicator or decider on HB matters.4Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 No 213 reg 89(1) This emphasises the primary role of the council in the regulatory framework, though exceptions might be found elsewhere in the Regulations.

7. It’s vital to note that these decisions fall squarely under the jurisdiction of the Council. When staff members from the Council make these decisions, they are doing so as representatives of the Council, under a defined scheme of delegation.

HB claims cease to exist once they have been decided

8. Once a decision has been made on a claim for HB  by the council the claim no longer “subsists” or remains in effect after that decision time. This means that the claim, in its current form and content, effectively concludes at the point the decision is made.5CSPSSA, sch 7, para 2 

The finality of decisions

9. A decision made by the Council is final 6CSPSSA, sch 7, para 11 unless it is:

  1. revised;
  2. superseded;
  3. terminated after an award has been suspended; or
  4. appealed.

Revision of decisions

10. Any relevant decision may be revised or further revised by the Council which made the original decision.7CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3

11. The decision can be revised either:8CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3(1)(a)

  1. within a specified time frame (“prescribed period”) or
  2. in specific cases or circumstances set out in regulations.

12. The trigger for this revision can be either:9CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3(1)(b)

  1. an application from a person affected by the decision, or
  2. the council’s own decision to review.

13. Additionally, regulations set out the specific procedure for how these decisions are revised.10CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3(1)

Council need only consider the particular issue(s) raised

14. When revising a decision, the council doesn’t have to consider every aspect of the original decision. They only need to address:11CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3(2)

  1. the specific issues highlighted by an application or
  2. the specific reason they initiated the review.

15. Note that the council has a discretion here. There is nothing to stop it from considering matters other than the particular issue raised in an application for revision. The council should not shut its eyes to things where doing so would cause an injustice. This is particularly the case because, on an appeal against a revised decision (or against a refusal to revise), a tribunal may exercise this discretion. Claimants however are best advised to raise all the points with which they disagree in their applications for revision and to provide relevant evidence and information to support the application.

Date a revised decision takes effect

16. Generally, if a decision is revised, the revision takes effect from the date the original decision was (or was intended to be) effective.12CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3(3)

17. Regulations prescribe in certain cases or circumstances, a revised decision can have a different effective date than the original decision’s date.13CSPSSA, sch 7, para 3(4)

Grounds for revision

18. A relevant HB decision (“the original decision”) may be revised or further revised by the Council which made the decision under certain conditions. These include:14Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2001

  1. where person affected applies for a revision within one month of being notified of the decision. This time period can be extended in specific circumstances.
  2. If within a month of the date of notification of the original decision, the council has information which is sufficient to show that the original decision was made in ignorance of or was based upon a mistake as to, some material fact.
  3. If an appeal against the original decision is made but hasn’t been decided yet.

Revisions due to official errors

19. A decision can be revised at any time if there was an official error. 

20. An “official error” in this context is essentially an error made by the Council, officers of specific government or designated agents.

21. The first category of entities that can make an “official error” are:

  1. people authorised to carry out any function associated with housing benefit on behalf of the Council.
  2. people providing services related to housing benefit either directly or indirectly, to a council.

22. This could mean the local council itself or individuals/agencies subcontracted by the council to administer these benefits.

23. The  second category of entities that can make an “official error” are:

  1. an officer from the Department for Work and Pensions.
  2. an officer from the Commissioners of Inland Revenue (now part of HM Revenue and Customs).

24. In both cases, it refers to errors made by officials from these entities while performing their official duties.

Exclusion from official error

25. An official error excludes:

  1. any error caused wholly or partly by anyone or body not identified above –  This means that if an error is made wholly or even partly by any entity or individual not listed above then it isn’t considered an “official error”.
  2. any error of law which is shown to have been an error only by virtue of a subsequent decision of the Upper Tribunal or the court –  This means that if there’s an error in how the law was interpreted or applied, and this error is only identified because of a later decision by the Upper Tribunal or another court, it doesn’t qualify as an “official error”. In other words, unless a higher judicial authority decides that a legal interpretation was incorrect, the original interpretation stands and is not considered an error.

26. In summary, an “official error” pertains to errors made by specific governmental or related entities in relation to housing benefits. It doesn’t include errors made by outside parties or errors in legal interpretation that are later corrected by judicial review.

Revisions due to advantageous decisions based on incorrect facts

27. Where a decision was made in ignorance of, or was based upon a mistake as to, some material fact and as a result of that ignorance of or mistake as to that fact, the decision was more advantageous to the person affected than it would otherwise have been but for that ignorance or mistake, i.e. normally there will have been an overpayment of housing benefit in such cases. 

Revisions due to new rent officer determinations

28. A decision that follows a rent officer’s determination can be revised anytime if there’s a change in the rent amount used to calculate the benefit due to a new determination by the rent officer.

Other specific cases for revision

29. Some decisions, as prescribed, can be revised anytime. If a subsequent appeal decision affects a prior decision, the prior decision can be revised.
Provisions are made for revising decisions in specific cases related to convictions, benefit awards, pensions, antisocial behaviour orders, possession orders, and specific housing benefit reductions.

30. This is a basic overview and simplification of the detailed provisions

Decisions superseding earlier decisions

31. The following decisions can be replaced (“superseded”) by a new decision:

  1. Any relevant decision, whether it was made originally or revised
  2. any decision from an appeal tribunal or a Commissioner under this Schedule.
  3. any decision made by the First-tier Tribunal or any decision from the Upper Tribunal relating to such a decision.

32. These decisions can be superseded either if a person affected by the decision applies for it to be superseded, or if the Council chooses to do so on their own accord.

On superseding a decision the Council need only consider the particular issue(s) raised

33. When making a superseding decision, the Council doesn’t need to review every aspect of the original decision. They only need to consider the specific issues mentioned in the application or the ones that prompted them to act on their own.

When the superseding decision takes effect

34. Typically, a superseding decision comes into effect either on the date it’s made or on the date the application for superseding was made.

35. Regulations provide exceptions, specifying cases where a superseded decision might have a different effective date.

36. In simple terms, this provision outlines the conditions and processes by which decisions related to housing benefits can be replaced or superseded. The provision also discusses who can request or initiate a superseding decision, and which authority is responsible for making these decisions. It provides clarity on the timing of these decisions and indicates that further specifics can be provided through regulations.

The discretionary nature of revisions and supersessions

37. The use of the word “may” in relation to the Council’s power to revise and supersede indicates that these powers are discretionary. In certain instances, it might be considered appropriate not to exercise these powers.

Case law – CIS/6249/1999 paras 21-25. 

38. Analogous powers in relation to review contained in section 25(1) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (as enacted) were considered in CIS/6249/1999 paras 21-25. 

39. The Secretary of State argued that section 25(1) mandated a review if a specific ground for it exists and there’s no discretion involved. A legal decision cannot be termed as ‘Wednesbury unreasonable’ or irrational (para 21).

40. The Commissioner considered that the principle of ‘abuse of power’ is a vital consideration. The word “may” in section 25(1) indicated a power, not an obligation. However, in certain contexts, “may” can be interpreted as a requirement. It had generally been assumed that if a ground for review existed, the review should be executed. In some instances, past decisions weren’t reviewed if there was no practical significance regarding the effective date. The Commissioner held that section 25(1) provided a power, not a duty to review (para 22).

41. It’s essential to examine if the power has been abused and thus unlawfully exercised. References are made to a series of tax cases that delve into the principles of ‘abuse of power’ (para 23).

42. Details of tax cases where it was examined if a government entity could backtrack on a representation about how they would treat a taxpayer. The concept of ‘abuse of power’ in the context of fairness and established practices is highlighted (para 24).

43. In this case, it would’ve been an abuse of power for the adjudication officer to review past decisions that could disadvantage the claimant.  The adjudication officer had all the information necessary to act properly, but that wasn’t done. The unfairness in reviewing the past would’ve amounted to an abuse of power (para 25).

44. It will be a rare case where it will be legitimate for a Council to refrain from revising or superseding a decision where the grounds for such revision or supersession exist.

Case law – R(IS) 15/04 (para 39)

45.  This case relates primarily to the power to revise based on official error. It was argued that the power to revise for official error is a discretionary power for the Secretary of State, not an entitlement for the claimant (para 38).

46. This submission was rejected (para 39):

  1.  Claimants are entitled to apply for revision based on official error;
  2. If a claimant can apply for revision due to an official error and it’s proven that an error led to a less favourable outcome, the claimant should be entitled to have the decision revised; 
  3. The idea of the Secretary of State having a wide discretionary power to decide whether or not to revise for official error conflicts with the structure of regulations;
  4. A claimant can apply for a judicial review if a revision for official error is not made. However, the legislation doesn’t specify the factors that the Secretary of State should consider if they had the broad discretionary power; 
  5. Even though the legislation states the decision “may be revised”, and “may be superseded”, in practice, a claimant who proves a ground for supersession requiring a change to the original decision is entitled to have the decision superseded. The claimant is essentially entitled to the revision of a decision if it’s proven that an official error caused a less favourable outcome for them. 

Case law – C8/06-07 (IB)  October 23, 2006

47. This is a Northern Ireland case on incapacity benefit.15‘[2006] NISSCSC C8_06_07 (23 October 2006), [2006] NISSCSC C8_06_07 | Northern Ireland – Social Security and Child Support Commissioner, Judgment, Law, Casemine.Com’ (,   accessed 11 August 2023

48. The submission revolved around the Department’s discretion to supersede its decision regarding the claimant’s benefit. The basis for supersession was a relevant change of circumstances. Article 11 allowed for a decision to be superseded under prescribed circumstances. The claimant’s commencement of work after the initial decision was a relevant change. The Department has the power but not a duty to supersede. This power must be used judiciously ( para 20.)

49. Arguments were considered to assess if superseding the decision was an abuse of power (based on CIS/6249/1999 and other cases). The conclusion is that it was not an abuse.  The claimant received incorrect advice from the Department’s staff leading him to not notify them about starting work.  Incorrect advice does not justify a wrong decision on benefit entitlement. The Department’s exercise of discretion to correct a decision is not an abuse of power. This case is distinct from others mentioned and does not revolve around practices, policies, or promises but statutory provisions.  The emphasis is on the public interest to ensure correct entitlement. The Department made a mistake, but it wasn’t in bad faith. The claimant’s legitimate expectations do not extend to benefits when not meeting the conditions. No discussions are around the recovery of wrongly paid benefits (para 21). 


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