SOUTHEND Council paid housing benefit to a family allegedly living in a house illegally and not paying rent.
The benefits department claimed it was right to pay the handouts directly to the family, even though they are said to have no tenancy agreement for the three-bedroom property in Pleasant Road, Southend.
Landlady Rita Patel, 45, who is trying to evict the family, said she had lost about £7,200 in unpaid rent and legal fees.
Romuald Usowicz is living in the home with his extended family after he took on the property from his estranged wife Teresa Usowicz, who was evicted in the autumn.
Mrs Patel: “It is a nightmare.
They have no tenancy agreement.
Rent free: The house in Pleasant Road
Evicted: Teresa Usowicz
“I am trying to get them out through the court and the council goes and starts paying housing benefit to them when they are not even paying me rent.’’ The family are believed to have received £1,360 in housing benefit over two months before the council stopped the payments.
Mrs Patel said she hoped the family would be evicted soon.
She added: “With lost rent and legal costs, I am now seriously out of pocket.”
Joe Chesterton, the council’s head of finance and resources, said: “We cannot comment on individual cases because the parties have a right to confidentiality.
Eyesore: Junk and metal in garden
What a mess: Rita Patel surveys property during a visit
“However, the council takes every reasonable step to ensure housing benefit is lawfully paid, and in this case, we are satisfied it has been. The relevant law enables us to recover any housing benefit where it ought not to have been paid, or where there has been fraud. The council investigates instances of fraud, which can result in prosecution.
“Although it is good practice to have a written tenancy agreement, there can be informal arrangements, say in a case where a partner remains in the property and the original tenant leaves.
“If the landlord accepts the housing benefit payments, then these can be paid, even if the tenant has no formal tenancy agreement."
The Echo spoke toMr Usowicz through his daughter, as he said his English was poor.
Clean: bedroom before
Squalid: Same room after occupation
Broken: damaged kitchen drawer
He said: “We were paying the rent, but it was stopped because she (Mrs Patel) would not deal with problems like mice and a gas leak.
“She said she could not do anything. We have tried to pay the rent again, but she does not want it because she just wants us out. We have nowhere else to stay and the council is not helping us yet.”