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:
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.
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