RLA trainer, and Housing Benefits expert Bill Irvine has an update on his Alternative Payments post from last week. Bill explains some issues he is having with DWP and Universal Credit arrangements and best advice on how to challenge some of the road blocks facing private landlords. Find out what Bill has to say…
One of my latest bulletins explained the new E-mail process for making E-secure applications for “Alternative Payment Arrangements” (APAs) http://news.rla.org.uk/universal-credit-alternative-payments-applications-email-for-private-landlords/. Whilst the news was welcomed by RSLs a number have since written to explain that most of the problems being encountered are due to DWP maladministration issues (lengthy delays & errors) and that unless the processes are improved, rent arrears, recovery action and costs associated with all this, will continue to escalate.
In many instances, APA applications have been made, including supporting evidence, like rent statements, showing rent arrears or “third party” letters from Social Workers, Health Visitors etc. confirming the various types of addictions or mental health problems referred to in DWPs Tier-1 criteria. Despite adhering to the guidance, payments, on too many occasions, are continuing to be paid by mistake to tenants, only to be misused. In some cases, RSLs have received letters promising payment but, again, due to DWP errors, these have never materialised, forcing them to take legal action, against their tenant, for recovery, which the APA application, if handled properly, could easily have avoided.
Although a high propertion of APAs are eventually awarded (30-50%), DWP can often takes 4-6 weeks, sometimes longer, to make its decision to pay the landlord. However, the decision oftens crosses with UC payment dates, resulting in yet more months of housing elements going mistakenly to the tenant. DWPs response is often; “it’s up to you and your tenant to sort things out”! That, in my view, is a wholly unreasonable stance to take given the circumstances.
So what should you do? Quite simply, challenge the DWPs refusal to compensate!
For the past few months, I’ve been pursuing compensation for some of my retainer clients in relation to Universal Credit. Using my experience of what happens currently, under the HB/LHA scheme and related caselaw, as a yardstick, when an application for an APA is submitted by a landlord, it’s my belief DWP should immediately act to:
- Suspend payment of the “housing element” as the UC regulations provide for this; and
- Contact the tenant for their view on the application made by the landlord; and
- Depending on the response (or lack of from the tenant), and, in particular, any third party evidence held relating to Tier 1 status, the Decision Maker could make a decision and communicate this to both landlord & tenant; and
- In the event payment is not paid to the landlord, a formal stage 1 complaint could be lodged, within a month of the decision, effectively keeping the payment of the “housing ellement”suspended until the complaint has been resolved, one way or another.
Adopting the above steps would protect the “housing element” from potential or further misuseand avoid more rental debt. This is clearly in the interests of both tenant and landlord as the “housing element” is designed to reduce or fully extinguish the rental liability.
All of the above issues are critically important to the administration of Universal Credit. At the minute, as far as I can see, there is no clear guidance or advice to landlords, on what they can do in these circumstances. So I’ve written to Neil Couling, Director General, at the DWP, responsible for UC implementation, seeking some clarity on the stages in DWPs “complaints process”. I hope to share these with you in a later bulletin.
In the meantime, I’d recommend you ensure your staff are aware of what’s happening and, where appropriate, start pursuing these issues, in the maner outlined above, as a matter of priority with the DWP.
If you require further information on this topic or any other benefit related matter, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or 07733 080 389