Tenancy Management Welfare Reform and Homelessness

BLOG: Universal Credit: Complaints – and sticking to your guns

universal credit
Bill Irvine
Written by Bill Irvine

RLA trainer and Universal Credit expert Bill Irvine shares one of his latest cases – which saw a Universal Credit payment made to a claimant’s friend by mistake. He talks about the issues in getting the complaint taken seriously – and the ultimately successful outcome.

In a few of my earlier bulletins, I refer to the process of making formal complaints to the DWP and have highlighted cases where landlord clients have followed my advice, only to be effectively ignored by the department.

On Wednesday, last week, I received a referral from one of my Housing Association clients that clearly demonstrates the frustrations this can cause to both tenant and landlord.

However it also shows how success can be achieved through the dedication & commitment of frontline staff, like Housing, Welfare Rights and Financial Inclusion Officers.

The referrer was one of the association’s Housing Officers, who, to her credit, had been actively pursuing DWP for months, trying to secure compensation for rental loss, caused by nothing less than DWP maladministration.

Payment to ‘friend’

In summary, her client had previously been homeless; was offered a tenancy by the Association; the tenant was forced to apply for Universal Credit as the property was located in a “Full Service” area; a UC 47 had been submitted, seeking redirection of the “housing element”; this was subsequently agreed, but simultaneously, payment was, inexplicably, paid to the tenant’s “friend” as the tenant had no bank account.

The friend promptly misused the sum, putting the tenant in rent arrears and placing his tenancy in jeopardy.

Despite pursuing both stage 1 and 2 complaints, in neither case was she able to secure a written response, so had turned to her tenant’s Case Manager.

Surprisingly, DWP’s response was, that they had followed internal guidance which permitted payment for the first BAP to be credited to anyone’s account.

I picked up the baton, referring the case to DWP’s Head of Complaints.

Regulations

I put it to him, the UC (Claims & Payments) Regulations 2013 required payment to be made, in accordance with the terms of the UC award, to the nominated account of the claimant or, if he was considered “Unable to Act” due to some lack of mental capacity, to certain specified alternatives – Appointees; Guardians etc.

It was clear to me, that the regulations did NOT permit, payment to simply “a friend”.

But, in any case, DWP had already consented to pay the Housing Association and had confirmed this by e-mail.

To allow redirection to the Housing Association, the Decision Maker had “superseded” the default position of paying the tenant.

So, the payment made to the friend which, included two housing cost elements, was not only made in error; applying Upper-tier Judge Jacob’s R (H) 1 & 2/08 rulings, it could NOT amount to a lawful payment of Universal Credit as it was at odds with the Decision Maker’s decision to pay my Housing Association client.

DWP have a habit of making mistakes like this.

They often agree, following an Alternative Payment Arrangement request, to pay the SRS or PRS landlord, but then proceed to pay the tenant.

Concern

Where this happens, you should be challenging the misdirected payment and seeking recompense!.

Referring back to my complaint, I also expressed concern about DWP’s staffs’ unwillingness to treat the Housing Officer’s complaints seriously.

Coincidentally, in a recent complaint to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) the 3rd stage in Complaints Process, I referred to a statement made by one of DWP’s directorate.

It read: “I should perhaps end by clarifying that it is not the case that we must provide a written response to all the complaints we receive, as you state in your correspondence.

We will endeavour to resolve complaints by telephone when it is appropriate to do so, and we provide the correct escalation route to the complainant.

However, as I have confirmed earlier in my letter, we will always provide a written response if a correspondent asks us to do so.”

In this case, despite the Housing Officer’s repeated demands for escalation, nothing had happened, and she was being asked to accept, DWP had no intention of taking any further action.

Wrong

That was simply wrong and unacceptable.

She was entitled, like any aggrieved client of DWP, to pursue her complaint, through the agreed stages, and, if need be, escalate to ICE and the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

In order to do so, DWP MUST provide complaint outcome responses, including details of to whom the next stage should be redirected.

Unlike many of the justifiable complaints, we’ve been pursuing with ICE for months, this complaint, has finally, produced the desired result.

Response

DWP responded on Friday afternoon – “The money will be correctly paid to X Housing Association, as it was the Service Centre’s fault for sending payment to the friends account when an APA was agreed.

“This may take until next week to arrange but will definitely be issued as soon as possible. They will also arrange for the correct amount to be paid as this was not updated when the change was reported and any arrears due also paid.” 

The successful outcome is entirely due to the Housing Officer’s dedication to her job and her vulnerable client, plus, a dose of sheer doggedness, based on a knowledge that DWP’s handling of her client’s case was simply wrong and needed to be challenged.

Her efforts have produced a result which has avoided the need for legal action and saved her client from being exposed, yet again, to the potential repossession process and the vagaries of homelessness.

Thankfully, she’s not alone; many of her colleagues, UK wide, are pursuing their clients claims, every day of the week, with DWP.

The bad news is, cases of this nature, are now becoming commonplace, and are likely to further escalate, as the Universal Credit Full Service rollout bandwagon expands, in terms of both areas and numbers of tenants affected, with an additional 6 million claimants expected by March 2023.

Anyone wishing any further information on this topic can contact bill at bill@ucadvice.co.ukor phone 07733 080 389.

Learn more:

  • The RLA runs a course on Universal Credit
  • RLA Director Richard Jones and Senior Policy Officer Natalie Williamson recently spent the day at Widnes Job Centre Plus seeing how Universal Credit full service operates on the front line. You can read that blog post here.
  • Welfare reform will be on the agenda at the RLA’s next Future Renting Conference in London this September. For more information and to secure your ticket visit our conference page at  https://www.rla.org.uk/future-renting/

 

About the author

Bill Irvine

Bill Irvine

Bill has quickly become known as a very effective Welfare Rights Advocate. He has been involved in most of the major social security changes since the early 80’s when Housing Benefit was first introduced. As well as offering advice and assistance to landlords, primarily in the RSL/PRS sectors, he also provides representation when disputes can’t be resolved through negotiation and where they have to be progressed through the formal tribunal process, initially to First Tier and, if necessary, through to Upper Tier level where some of his cases have proved to be of national importance to disadvantaged groups.

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