RLA trainer, and housing benefits expert Bill Irvine, returns with his Universal Credit column for private landlords housing benefit tenants. In this edition Bill details the formal complaint procedure and challenging APA arrangements that have issues or have been denied unfairly.
In my bulletin http://universalcreditadvice.com/housing-associations/2015/08/universal-credit-apas—what-to-do-when-dwp-get-it-wrong I encourage you to challenge any Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) request, which is:
- Refused unreasonably or without adequate reasons being given; or
- Payment of the “housing element” is NOT suspended, pending a decision, and continues to be paid to your tenant; or
- After the APA has been granted in favour of the landlord, further payments are mistakenly paid to your tenant and subsequently misused.
Until recently, 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. DWP staff were also failing to recognise that they could suspend payment of the “housing costs” so continued to make payments to tenants, some of whom had already misused payments, accruing substantial rent arrears in the process.
DWP hierarchy has, only recently, confirmed the following “Complaints Process” which you and your staff can now follow if you’re unhappy with the way your APA has been handled:
The formal complaints process for all complaints regarding operational delivery, as set out in the DWP Complaints Procedure is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure
The guidance includes consideration of UC complaints, and sets out the escalation process.
In summary, the process to follow is:
- In the first instance, any complaint should be raised with the office that has been dealing with the case.
- If escalation is required, then the case can be referred to a Complaint Resolution Manager (CRM).The CRM will look into the complaint and try to resolve it, but if this is not possible they can refer unresolved complaints to the DWP Complaints, Redress and Stewardship This represents the final business review
- Should complainants remain dissatisfied with this final response, they can escalate their concerns to DWP’s independent complaints reviewer, the “Independent Case Examiner”.
- Lastly, if a) to c) doesn’t produce the desired result, the complaint can be referred via their MP to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, as detailed in the above link.
DWP has also confirmed to me that this new procedure will, in future, be outlined in the various decision notices, issued to landlords pursuing APAs and that the whole process will be continually reviewed and improved upon.
In the cases I have been dealing with for both RSLs and Private Landlords, the details of the Complaints Resolution Manager were not included in the decision notification, so I wrote directly to Neil Couling, Director General, Universal Credit Operations, expressing my clients’ concerns, and following various exchanges, the above process has been conformed.
Once the case is referred to the Complaints Resolution Manager they should consider, whether any further action is needed, to remedy any delay and/or injustice, including consideration of a further payment of Universal Credit or an ex-gratia payment, where payment has been mistakenly paid to the tenant. My clients have been awarded compensation by adopting this process, so we know it’s already working!
Information on ex-gratia payments is available in DWP guidance on Financial Redress for Maladministration which can be viewed at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/309964/financial-redress-maladministration-apr-14.pdf
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