Case news: Housing benefit decision addresses issue of what is a full time course of education?

29 Apr 2020 | William Ford

Table of Contents

The background

You might be forgiven for thinking that the question of whether a course is full time or part time is fairly straightforward and does not require the involvement of lawyers. However, this is an issue that frequently arises in welfare benefits cases. The basic position is that a full time student will not be eligible for means-tested benefits (there are exceptions to this rule but it is not necessary to go into them here).  Part-time students usually remain entitled to receive means-tested benefits.

This issue came up in a recent case in which Osbornes Law were instructed. Our client, Mr Huntley, had been in receipt of Housing Benefit to assist in the payment of his rent. In September 2016 he started a course of education entitled ‘the Cornhill London Ministry Training Course’ (“the Course”), which he intended to pursue with a view to training as a Christian Minister. He attended lectures at college one day per week and was expected to do a further half day’s study per week.

At the same time as pursuing the course our client was also working at his local Church as a ministry trainee.  The Council took the view that the time spent at the local Church formed part of the Course, and that the combined hours made the client a full time student. The Course provider were aware of the placement with the client’s local Church, and students were strongly encouraged to pursue such placements. This was confirmed in materials available about the Course. If you included the total amount of time spent on the Course and the time spent on the placement as part of a course of study, then our client would be likely to be considered to have been a full time student. However, the course of study itself was only one day a week, with an extra half a day study that the student would pursue in their own time.

The case

On 31 August 2017, the London Borough of Islington (“the Council”) cancelled our client’s Housing Benefit claim, and created an overpayment, on the basis that they considered him to be a full time student. Our client appealed the housing benefit decision (without the assistance of lawyers). The case was considered on the papers by the First Tier Tribunal on 1 March 2018. The First Tier Tribunal upheld the decision of the Council.  Our client then filed an appeal (again unrepresented) and on 16 November 2018 a First Tier District Tribunal Judge set aside the decision of 1 March 2018 on the basis that there was evidence available that had not been considered by the Judge making the first decision.

Exceptional funding granted

The re-hearing was adjourned a number of times for our client to obtain legal advice. Osbornes were instructed in September 2019 and made an application for exceptional legal aid funding so that they could represent Mr Huntley before the First Tier Tribunal (legal aid is generally unavailable for appeals before the First Tier Tribunal, but funding can be granted on an exceptional basis by the Legal Aid Agency). Exceptional funding was granted to represent Mr Huntley.

Osbornes were able to obtain further evidence that indicated that whilst the placement with the local Church was complimentary to the course, it did not in fact form part of the course. The course could be completed without the need for completion of a placement with a local Church.

The Law

The definition of a “full course of study” is set out at regulation 53 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006. However, where a course does not come under specific rules concerning how the course is funded (as was the case in Mr Huntley’s appeal) case law has held that the question of whether a course counts as a ‘full time course of study” depends on a consideration of all the facts of the individual case.

The appeal was heard before a Judge on 11 March 2020 and Mr Huntley and other another witness gave evidence.

Case outcome

Judgement was given on 16 April 2020 and the First Tier Tribunal Judge concluded that the Course was not a full time course of study, and that the decision of the Council to stop Housing Benefit was incorrect.

The Judge considered the approach of Commissioner Jacobs (as he then was) in the case of CIB/1410/2005, in which work experience which was essential to, but not part of, the course was disregarded when considering whether the course was full or part time. In Mr Huntley’s case it was accepted that the training he was receiving from his apprenticeship at his local Church was not organised by the course provider or part of the course curriculum. His appeal was allowed.

The importance of legal aid

This case highlights the crucial difference that legal aid can make in cases where clients lack the resources and legal knowledge to effectively represent themselves in cases involving issues of legal complexity. It is regrettable that many people in the same position as Mr Huntley will not be able to have the benefit of legal assistance with their appeal due to the lack of availability for legal aid for such cases generally.

It also highlights the importance of legal aid lawyers using the exceptional funding regime, imperfect thought it is.

Mr Huntley was represented in his appeal by William Ford, a partner in the Housing and Social Care team.

Share this article


Contact us today

For a free initial conversation call 020 7485 8811

Email us Send us an email and we’ll get back to you

    More from WilliamVIEW ALL

    1. 13.9.2023

      Successful homelessness judicial review case against Redbridge Council

      This matter involved a claim in the High Court for judicial review against Redbridge Council for failure to comply with...

      Read more
    2. Man is making audit of household expenses

      Success in Court of Appeal in child disability...

      The Court of Appeal has today handed judgment in the case of Harrington v Secretary of State for Work and...

      Read more
    3. Churchill Gardens neighborhood in Pimlico

      High Court finds Westminster Council’s Housing Scheme...

      Westminster City Council’s housing allocation scheme found to be unlawful The High Court has today handed down judgment finding...

      Read more
    4. East London aerial view

      Housing allocation case questions lawfulness of council’s...

      Until February 2022, the social housing allocation scheme for the London Borough of Newham allowed people who lived outside the borough...

      Read more
    5. High Court of Justice, London, UK

      Legacy benefits uplift: appeal granted by Court of...

      On 18 February 2022 the High Court dismissed the case brought by Osbornes on behalf of 4 claimants challenging the governments failure to...

      Read more
    6. signing document

      EU Nationals with Pre-Settled Status entitled to benefits...

      Court Judgment means EU Nationals with Pre-Settled Status can access benefits and housing On 18 December 2020 the Court of Appeal handed...

      Read more
    7. 22.12.2020

      Osbornes applying to Supreme Court in housing possession...

      In the case of Gateway Housing Association –v- Begum (2) the Court of Appeal recently decided that a tenant must leave...

      Read more
    8. london apartments

      Housing disrepair issues resolved after three years

      Osbornes were instructed on behalf of a disabled tenant who had been decanted from her temporary accommodation for some three...

      Read more
    9. 24.11.2020

      Is the delay in the Renters Reform Bill...

      There have been issues tenants have faced for a long time before pandemic; namely no fault evictions and the other...

      Read more
    10. 20.11.2020

      Up Up and away to the First Tier...

      This year we assisted in written representations for a welfare benefit case in the Upper Tribunal. This is a Housing...

      Read more
    11. 20.11.2020

      You are homeless because you are in shared...

      It is well established that shared facilities are not suitable for families with children as long term accommodation. The client...

      Read more
    12. london house

      I have a disrepair issue can I withhold...

      Withholding rent is not your best course of action. I see the logic in using the non-payment of rent as...

      Read more
    13. 26.3.2020

      British child living with her mother in the...

      In AH v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2020] UKUT 53 (AAC), the claimant and her parents are British citizens. ...

      Read more
    14. 6.11.2019

      Universal Credit Claims and Personal Injury Compensation

      The general rule on entitlement to Universal Credit is that a person is not entitled if they have capital of...

      Read more
    15. 5.9.2019

      Possession – A New Dawn!

      On 21st July 2019 the Government launched a consultation to seek views on implementing their decision to remove section 21 of the...

      Read more
    16. 25.3.2019

      Homelessness- The suitability of bed and breakfast accommodation

      There is tremendous pressure on local authorities to house individuals and families for many reasons including unaffordable private rents and...

      Read more
    17. 29.1.2019

      Anti-Social Behaviour Injunctions

      Landlords have the option to bring an injunction against tenants in the event they are committing anti-social behaviour. The injunction...

      Read more
    18. 5.11.2018

      Court of Appeal Clarifies the Definition of ‘Landlord’

      It is now not uncommon for home owners to enter into company let agreements with property companies who are authorised...

      Read more
    19. street

      How to deal with a Closure Order and...

      Over the last three years since the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 came into force Local Authorities and other...

      Read more