A council stopped a family’s housing benefit, costing them more than £5,000, after a fire tore through their home.
Sam Steinhart, his wife and five children were made homeless after the blaze gutted their property. The Steinharts went to stay with close relatives before being rehomed, but the local authority stopped their housing benefit.
Money was deducted from Mr Steinhart’s wages under an “attachment of earnings arrangement” to collect what Salford City Council claimed was overpaid benefit, an appeal tribunal at Manchester Civil Justice Centre heard.
But a judge told the council yesterday it must repay the family the £5,000 lost since the June 2021 fire.
Independent councillor for the Kersal and Broughton Park ward Andrew Walters, acting as an advocate for Mr Steinhart against the wishes of Salford City Council on which he serves, successfully appealed against the stopping of the benefit.
Judge Jenny Lester-Ashworth said: “The only change in circumstance was a change of address following the fire. I am satisfied that the council should have applied a closed period supersession to your claims period from June 28 to July 10. Your housing benefit claim should not have been permanently closed.
“You should not have been directed to apply for the housing element of Universal Credit.”
They had “lost pretty much everything” in the fire which also damaged several neighbouring homes, Manchester Evening News reports.
After the hearing, Cllr Walters told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’m obviously delighted, and of course absolutely thrilled for my constituent [at the outcome]. After the nightmare he has experienced with his house being burned down, losing his possessions, living with his family in temporary accommodation, and with inflation at over 10 per cent and, the cost-of-living crisis, having had to find an extra five thousand pounds to pay rent that the tribunal today has ruled should have been paid by the council.
“And indeed having had an attachment of earnings order sent to his employer to collect an alleged overpayment that this tribunal today has determined did not occur, would have put a strain on anyone. I was extremely impressed by the judge who had clearly made an effort to familiarise herself with the case and appropriate legislation and case law, ensuring a fair and correct decision could be made quickly.
“It was a shame that Salford city council was unable to send a presenting officer, but the judge made the correct decision in refusing an adjournment on that basis.
“It is my fervent hope that the council continues to make only correct decisions, so I will not need to attend a tribunal again in this capacity. But I will not allow my constituents to suffer injustice because they are unable to pay for representation.”
Mr Steinhart did not wish to comment.