North West

Bill Irvine: Universal Credit Roll out / implementation update

RLA
Written by RLA

RLA trainer, consultant, and housing benefit expert Bill Irvine provides an update of Universal Credit and proposed roll-out. The Department of Work Pensions (DWP) released a statement that Bill looks at and breaks down in detail.

RLA trainer, consultant, and housing benefit expert Bill Irvine provides an update of Universal Credit and proposed roll-out. The Department of Work Pensions (DWP) released a statement that Bill looks at and breaks down in detail.

DWP issued a press release, dated 29th April, in which it sets out, in some detail, how it proposes to roll-out Universal Credit to a range of councils and jobcentres in the North West of England. Full details can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/universal-credit-first-year-of-welfare-transformation-and-north-west-next-steps

Probably the most significant information relates to the additional 12 council areas. It was no secret DWP was speaking to councils but what is surprising, looking at the statement, is how little time there is between the announcement and the start of implementation; a matter of only a few weeks. We also still don’t know exactly how this will be handled, but if you’re a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) operating in any of these council areas, concerned about the affect this might have on your tenants, you really need to start seeking clarification from the councils and DWP ASAP. Adopting a hands-on approach will be key to safeguarding your tenants and the association’s interests.

The 12 local authorities identified are:

  • Salford City Council
  • Wirral Borough Council
  • Preston City Council
  • St Helens Borough Council
  • Cheshire East Council
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Trafford Borough Council
  • Bolton Borough Council
  • Bury Borough Council
  • South Ribble Borough Council
  • Sefton Borough Council
  • Knowsley Borough Council

The DWP state these LAs will be at the forefront of the “next steps” expansion, whilst it still continues to work closely with the initial Pathfinders including:

  • Wigan
  • Warrington
  • Tameside
  • Oldham

As the DWP is still having difficulty coping with even the simplest of claims, due to its lack of a viable IT system, despite its denials, I expect the roll-out will be intially restricted to single people and only when these are uploaded will they think of progressing to couples. Even then, “couples” will almost certainly mean those newly unemployed, have no children, no disabilities, no existing benefit entitlement etc. The individuals/couples affected will need to visit their local JobcentrePlus office to make their claim and separately meet with their Jobsearch Manager or assistant, who will engage them in discussion about their “claimant commitment” which, for the first time, becomes a condition of entitlement to UC. This means that if the claimant refuses to agree a commitment, Universal Credit could be refused, including the critically important housing element!

Alternatively, if they agree a commitment, but later breach its terms, they could find themselves the subject of a 4, 13 or 26 weeks sanction. Social landlords should especially note that if a sanction is applied to one of your tenants there is every likelihood those affected will use, at least part of their housing element, to offset the loss of benefit caused by the sanction. At the moment, housing benefit largely protects the housing costs as 95% of RSL tenants choose to “tick the box” redirecting payment of HB to their landlord by 4 weekly schedule.

Since October 2012 when the “claimant commitment” was incrementally rolled out, more than 1 million, mainly single people, under 35, have been sanctioned. Those numbers are likely to rise steeply as the “claimant commitment” is rolled out to the JobCentres in these council areas.

As the release explains:

“In a step change, from June more jobcentres across the north west of England will gradually come online each week until the whole region is covered. In total 90 jobcentres, or 1 in 8 jobcentres in Britain, will offer the full Universal Credit once the north west expansion is completed.”

Some of my clients, already engaged in the Universal Credit roll-out programme, have been, so far, less than impressed by the DWPs poor communication, combined with long delays being experienced in their attempts to have the “housing element” redirected, in advance of the first payment of UC. In one case, I heard about yesterday, payments promised to the RSL were sent by mistake to the tenant, who promptly misused the money, creating 2 months in arrears. One of my other clients have 11 cases, where UC is now in payment, direct to the tenant. All these tenants have arrears, either newly accrued or historic and applications for rent arrears deductions are now being pursued under the new provisions.

DWP Ministerial claims of robust systems and trialed & tested processes have yet to be realised; promised Landlord Managed Payment (LMPs) guidance has still not been delivered; the identification & role of “trusted intermediaries” and use of client mandates, in the claiming and dispute resolution processes, have still to be agreed; all of which has only served to heighten RSL concerns.

If you require any further information on this or any other part of the welfare reforms, please contact bill@ucadvice.co.uk. Alternatively, if you’d like to become a member of our advice & website services (only £240 per annum – 5 users) which includes access to relevant legislation DWP guidance, UT decisions, UC calculator & budgeting tool, a “discussion forum” and regular bulletins, like this, please contact me or linzi@ucadvice.co.uk or phone 07733 080 389.

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About the author

RLA

RLA

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) represents the interests of landlords in the private rented sector (PRS) across England and Wales. With over 23,000 subscribing members, and an additional 16,000 registered guests who engage regularly with the association, we are the leading voice of private landlords. Combined, they manage almost half a million properties.

2 Comments

  • Hello.
    It is 1.20am on a Monday morning and I am up late awaiting the arrival of two small children who have been removed from a family home as the parents are in serious rent arrears and have been sanctioned twice in six months as they do not have a PC in the home so can not log on to the DWP job search site and as I understand the situation have no food or very little to feed themselves with.

    The above situation is now becoming more and more regular and the local authority who I foster for are finding the situation very straining and the costs involved are huge in relation to the Universal credit sanctions that are saved.

    My local authority will now have to pay per week given the age of the children will be £460 per week and this is not including the back up services (social worker and family court costs) and not including the bed and breakfast accommodation to be found for the parents.

    My wife and I are volunteers and provide our services free but when universal credit is rolled out in my area that will all change as we are currently not in full time work but under the new U/C system only one Main carer can stay at home so this will leave me to look for work but the impact financially will more than likely find us both at work and we will simply be deregistered as we will both need to work and I have talked with our local authority foster carers and they also are giving serious consideration of resigning from voluntary foster carer services and turning to private agency’s and this will incur even more costs to our local authority or around £1200 per week for two children and the back room costs mentioned for Social workers etc will still remain.

    Sorry for wittering on but in my area I can see the very fabric of society being frayed at the edges and with large gaping holes appearing and it is the children who are paying the price of saving money but for every pound saved it is costing around £30 or more to be spent and we at the moment are “full” when the other two children arrive and I know that they are another three awaiting accommodation tomorrow and the system is creaking at the seams so I need to ask if this is really austerity or ideology from Government ? .

  • Alan – I have to agree with your comments. My wife and I are current foster carers for 2 young children who we are looking to adopt. After the adoption we will have the capacity for fostering young babies – this new universal credit will make this situation untenable.

    The fostering community are simply unaware of these changes coming down the line – having to attend back to work meetings, only allowing 8 weeks between placements before having to look for work, partners having to look for work or have a certain level of self employed income etc etc

    Why is nobody shouting from the rooftops about this – what are BAAF, Fosterline etc doing to make the Government see sense in this madness – have they considered the impact on the family when moving a child onto adoption – the emotional bond is broken and can take months to heal so you are ready for the next foster placement. What are you meant to do – get a job in the meantime. Disgusting.

    What if there are no children to foster for say 3 months – so you get a job in week 9 but then a foster child becomes available, do you just leave your job? Who is going to employ a foster carer knowing that they could walk out at short notice – how do you handle notice periods where the child is taken in the middle of the night but you can’t take them because you are tied to a months notice at your new job.

    We need to fight this but how?

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