RLA trainer, housing benefit (HB) and Universal Credit (UC) expert Bill Irvine returns with news of the Department Work and Pension (DWP) starting to get it right when it comes to Universal Credit payments. Bill has been working alongside RLA Policy Consultant (and Treasurer) Richard Jones and both are keen to commend DWP for acknowledging previous shortcomings and making the system work better..
Bill has documented issues he has had in the past with the DWP, most specifically with his article: “Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) when DWP gets it wrong.”
It is now the case the DWP will rectify mistakes and pay back missed rents back in full. Bill’s advice to ensuring you are paid in full is to preserve and make sure you use the correct method in liaising with DWP.
“Two of my most recent bulletins explain:
- DWP’s complaints process – Universal Credit complaints process explained!
- What to do when things go wrong – APAS, when DWP gets it wrong!
I encouraged you to challenge any Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) request, which is:
- a) Refused unreasonably or without adequate reasons being given; or
- b) Payment of the “housing element” is NOT suspended, pending a decision, and continues to be paid to your tenant; or
- c) After the APA has been granted in favour of the landlord, further payments are mistakenly paid to your tenant and subsequently misused.
I also explained, DWP’s handling of APAs has been seriously flawed, mainly due to a combination of lengthy processing delays, documents disappearing, and basic errors made by staff, such as failing to recognise they could suspend payment of the “housing costs”. In numerous cases, DWP continued to make payments to tenants, some of whom had already misused the payments, accrued substantial rent arrears in the process, forcing their landlord to start recovery action.
By bombarding DWP (including e-mails to NeiL Couling, Director General, Universal Credit Operations) with complaints and requests for compensation, DWP hierarchy eventually bowed to its various mistakes and omissions and confirmed its “Complaints Procedure” is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure .
Using the process, I wrote to the DWP seeking compensation for a number of my social & private clients. One such client is Stockport Homes, which had 4 very similar complaints, all of which were causing them concern. Its own staff had been properly pursuing these same issues with DWP’s office in Bolton but were getting frustrated by DWP’s lack of response and concern for what was happening. The Association, to its credit, employs Money Advice staff who are both knowledgeable and committed. I asked them to summarise each case, with a timeline of the APA application and associated e-mail/telephone call follow-ups they’d made. This they did, very competently, allowing me to forward this, on the association’s behalf, to DWP, accompanied by a note from myself, detailing my own concerns, which included staffs’ failure to:
- Suspend payment of the “Housing Costs”, pending a decision on the APA application; and
- Make payments to Stockport Homes, in accordance with the decisions it had made, to pay it, rather than its tenants. The HA had, in fact, received letters, following the APA request, agreeing to pay the “housing element” but then mistakenly paid the tenant who then avoided contact and simply misused the payment.
The process, for the first three complaints, has taken around 3 months before securing DWP’s concession to make a “compensatory” payments for each case. In contrast, the fourth case took only a matter of weeks, as the DWP staff operating in its “Disputes & Resolution” team were clearly now, aware of my various concerns, and better informed about the “suspension” process and need to provide recompense for any delays and/or errors which caused RSL clients to suffer financial loss, particularly, as they could so easily have been avoided if proper procedures had been followed.
I’m sure, if you ask your own staff, you’ll find they’ve encountered very similar problems, especially in the recent past, only to be told by DWP – “you’ll need to sort the problem out with your tenant!” even though it was their mistake. Nowadays, you should find a very different attitude towards such cases. If your staff follow the procedures, outlined in our bulletins, are patient, persevere, and fully prosecute their complaint, you’ll find they should invariably secure a better outcome. If not, get in touch and we’ll see how we can assist.
If you require any further information on this or any other welfare reform topic, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07733 080 389.”