The RLA has given evidence to the London Assembly Housing Committee on the roll out of Universal Credit on Tuesday.
During the evidence session RLA senior policy officer Natalie Williamson called for the process of Alternative Payments to be improved.
Natalie shared with the committee that while recent changes have meant that things are starting to improve for landlords, some landlords are still experiencing issues when it comes to the process of applying for direct payments.
Currently, landlords can apply for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) which allows the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid direct to them. However, as RLA members that have applied through this system have reported – it is unreliable and inefficient. Added to which, landlords are currently only able to request an APA if the tenant is in two months worth of rent arrears.
Natalie shared with the committee that because direct payments are not being processed quickly enough, some RLA members have reported that they are finding rent arrears are continuing to escalate.
Average time to process an Alternative Payment Arrangement
Research published last year by the RLA’s research arm, PEARL, found that
of those landlords that have to wait for two months arrears before they can apply for direct payment – the average time for an APA to be processed is 9.3 weeks.
This, when added to the initial two months arrears accrued, means that some landlords are on average owed four months’ rent before they are successfully awarded direct payment.
Natalie told the committee that it is important for landlords to be notified that payment is going to come-and said that the RLA is calling for this and better data sharing between local authorities to help improve the process.
A new APA online system set for this summer
Earlier this month, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd confirmed that a new online system is being developed by the Department for Work and Pensions to allow landlords to request direct payments online. It is something that the RLA campaigned extensively for, and at today’s London Assembly Housing Committee, a representative from the DWP who was giving evidence in the following session said that this online system will be launched this summer.
Natalie told the committee that the RLA welcomes the news announced by Amber Rudd last week that it looks likely that the benefit freeze will be lifted – including hopefully the LHA freeze , however more details are needed as to where this rate will be set in terms of market rents – particularly in London.
Questioned about enforcement, Natalie told the committee that there is no place for criminal landlords in the sector, adding the RLA’s support of the Fitness for Human Habitation Act-which will become law in March. You can read the RLA’s Fitness for Human Habitation guide about this here.
Natalie also reinforced the RLA’s support for a Housing Court-the consultation of which closed today. You can read the RLA’s response to this consultation here.
RLA research into local authority enforcement
Later on in the evidence session Natalie also highlighted that local authorities do have existing powers that are already available to them to tackle the issue of criminal landlords, such as civil penalties and rent repayment orders and said that the RLA is calling for more enforcement.
Indeed, research from RLA PEARL published in November last year found that two-thirds of councils in England and Wales brought no prosecutions against private landlords in 2017/18.
You can watch the evidence session in full here.
Want to learn more about Universal Credit? The RLA run courses across the country delivered by LHA and Universal Credit expert Bill Irvine.