Opinion Tenancy Management Welfare Reform and Homelessness

Universal Credit full service: Make sure you are prepared

Bill Irvine
Written by Bill Irvine

Bill Irvine, the RLA’s Universal Credit adviser and trainer on how getting to grips with the Universal Credit system could save you money in the long run.

By the end of this year, every area in Great Britain will be delivering the Government’s benefit flagship – Universal Credit Full Service.

By October 2022, it’s estimated this new style benefit will replace all existing means-tested benefits, like Income Support, JSA, ESA, Tax Credits and Housing Benefit for working age tenants.

If you accommodate Housing Benefit/Local Housing Allowance (LHA) tenants, you will almost certainly be affected, sooner or later.

So, how does this new benefit differ from Housing Benefit/LHA?

Unlike Housing Benefit, which is administered locally by councils, the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP’s) administration is delivered at arms-length and places an emphasis on tenants making their claim online.

They must also provide supporting documentation electronically, making a “claimant commitment” before payment commences and where they breach the conditions of their commitment, have their benefit sanctioned or, in some cases, cancelled –  putting at risk their ability to meet their rental obligations to you.

DWP also expects tenants to report all changes in circumstances through their online account immediately.

Where they fail to do this, can be hit with £50 admin penalties, where overpayments occur.

Something called the “whole month rule” can produce unexpected rental losses. In contrast, there are aspects of this new benefit, which can produce unexpected benefit windfalls, if you’re alert to the opportunities which exist.

Private landlords already experiencing the adverse effects of Full Service delivery and complain of DWP being unwilling to engage with them, despite possession of tenant mandates.

Chasing Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) applications has proved very difficult, due to DWP insistence on the tenant confirming their “explicit consent” in their online “journal”.

Again, if you’re aware of the key players and processes you can mitigate any potential losses.

Tenants can expect little or no support from DWP and local advice agencies, already swamped with benefit type complaints and appeals, have little capacity to expand their services to meet demand.

Because of these various factors, many landlords, who fail to educate themselves, can experience a doubling in rent arrears exposure, in some cases, losing £10-16k per case, would you believe?

To what extent does the new scheme differ from LHA?

The answer is; ‘in more ways than you could ever have anticipated’, so it’s vitally important you familiarise yourself with all its component parts, including its complexities and anomalies.

If you do, you’re much less likely to experience the rental losses already mentioned above.

What can I do to get to grips with the Universal Credit system

The RLA offers a specifically tailored Universal Credit course for PRS landlords & Letting Agents. It is delivered by Bill Irvine, UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd, who we retain to support our website members.

Bill is an ex Government Advisor on Housing Benefits and, who for the past five years, has been successfully representing our members in disputes with councils and DWP and, where required, mediates and represents our members before First & Upper-tier Tribunals. Some of his notable successes have been produced as articles which can be examined on our website.

Who should attend?

  • Any landlord and/or agent who accommodates tenants, reliant to some extent on claiming assistance from LHA/Universal Credit schemes to help them reduce or extinguish their rent liabilities.
  • Landlords and/or agents who have not previously accepted tenants in receipt of benefit payments
  • New landlords and or agents considering accepting tenants in receipt of benefit payments and anxious to discover the how best to do this and avoid some of the difficulties that can be experienced when dealing with DWP.

For more information visit our Universal Credit page click here.

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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