24th March, 2022
Social landlords across GB, preparing for the April 2022 annual “rent increase” event, naturally assumed, the onus for reporting the change to DWP would rest primarily with their tenants, using their journal, after being prompted by an online “To-do” in April. That’s certainly been DWP’s position since 2013, despite demands from the sector for a bulk upload facility, similar to those provided by councils, adminstering Housing Benefit.
Most also assumed the change, made last year, permitting landlords to update the new figure themselves, via the portal, where tenants failed to, would continue, as this was viewed as a sensible move, involving minimal effort, warmly welcomed by the sector.
What they couldn’t have expected was a directive from DWP’s Director General, Neil Couling, that “in 2022 you will need to verify all annual rent changes reported by tenants. A ‘Confirm tenant’s housing costs’ to-do will appear on the portal for each annual rent change.” So, not just those tenants who have APAs in place. The directive applies to every tenant who claims Universal Credit, representing considerably more effort and resources.
Why is this necessary?
Mr Couling maintains – “we are making this change to reduce fraud and error caused by annual rent changes” estimated to have caused £39M overpayments in 2020/21.
In contrast, DWP’s “Trust & Protect” policy, introduced during COVID, temporarily removing long-standing validation checks (e.g., claimant IDs, income/capital, PRS tenancy checks etc) and the Administration’s previous unwillingness to act on information provided by landlords (referred to in my earlier bulletins on this topic), caused £6 Billion in overpayments in 2020/21.
Could DWP have applied an alternative approach?
Yes – it could have asked tenants to upload a copy of their landlord’s rent increase letter, which would have been a better option, certainly less demanding for landlords.
Tenants are formally notified, each year, by Councils and Housing Associations of the change to their rent charge. The notification takes the form of a letter, on headed paper, which has the tenant’s name, address, new rent charge, post code etc. DWP routinely accepts letters, in the case of PRS tenants, as verification of rental charge & residence . The process is simple, with tenants uploading the required information, at the initial claim stage or when changes occur, using a link provided by DWP.
So, why not use this tried & tested process?
The answer is quite simple; it would involve DWP’s own staff manually intervening to effect the change and as we all know, one of the key objectives of Universal Credit, was to deliver an arms-length service, heavily reliant on IT systems and claimants using their online account to maintain their claim and converse with DWP, rather than visit jobcentres, email queries or make enquires by phone.
DWP’s operational staff, nowadays, recognise the system doesn’t comply with the law nor DWP’s own internal guidance, but maintain there’s little likelihood of changes being made, as their senior colleagues, would firstly have to publicly acknowledge their serious mistakes and, as we know, DWP doesn’t do “bad news”.
Full details of DWP’s briefing note can be found here
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UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd