Good morning

If you’re a Private Sector Landlord or Letting Agent, ordinarily providing accommodation to tenants claiming Housing Benefit or Universal Credit schemes you should be aware that from 1st April 2020 the Local Housing Allowance rates have now been published incorporating the Government commitment to pay at the 30th percentile.

Different rates apply to whichever part of GB your property is located.

The rates are:

a) England HERE.

b) Scotland HERE.

c) Wales HERE

When determining the appropriate rate for each property, the Council or DWP will compare the existing contractual rent to the LHA rate and pay whichever is the lower.

If your crrent contractual rent is equal to or greater than the latest LHA rate, the Council or DWP should automatically “supersede” your tenant’s current eligible rent” to reflect the new figure.

Whereas, where the contractual rent is lower the “eligible rent” will be capped at the lower figure, unless you take steps to raise this for the first time in 4 years.

Tenants affected specifically by Coronavirus

If you’re a landlord that doesn’t normally target tenants claiming Housing Benefit or Universal Credit you may find, due to the current health crisis, where many of your tenants have experienced a drop or complete loss of income, the likelihood is, they’ll claim Universal Credit to enable them to continue meeting their liability for rent.

Pre-action protocols (England/Wales) and Pre-action Requirements (Scotland) require you now to assist your tenants, wherever possible, to secure financial help before taking any steps to recover your property. As I don’t expect you to be experts in this area, here are some helpful tips for you and your tenants to follow.

Making a UC claim – the first step in the process is for your tenant to make a claim

The claim is submitted online and will take 20-30 minutes on average.

DWP received 500,000 new claims last week, so you can imagine its under severe pressure already to deliver within the usual 5 week wait for the first payment, although tenants with no income immediately can apply for an advance payment. To its credit, DWP has already started the process of redeploying 10,000 staff to assist the 6,500 that already specialise in delivering Universal Credit.

Having made their claim your tenant should be contacted by DWP to provide validation of their family members, income sources, rental charge etc. to permit the claim to be processsed. The normal rules of having to see claimants face-to-face have been relaxed, mainly to free up staff to process the claim through to payment – 5 weeks from date of claim. That remains the target!

Securing the Housing Costs

From your point of view, you’re most likely looking to receive payment of your rent. The best way of ensuring this, would be for DWP to pay you direct, but, I’m afraid, the default position is, to pay the tenant instead. There are ways in which landlords can seek redirection, through what is known as the APA scheme (Alternative Payment Arrangements) allowing payment of the monthly rent + an amount towards reducing any rent arrears that have accrued.

You can find out more about the APA scheme by examining the links below.

  1. New APA procedure
  2. How to request Direct Payments of housing costs or Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) using Tier 1 factors
  3. When emailing DWP using its UC 47 form I would recommend using the paragraph below when submitting UC 47 application to receive payment direct.

“Please find attached an application for an Alternative Payment Arrangements, based on Tier 1 criteria, including the necessary supporting evidence. Please ensure that payment of the “housing costs” element of the UC award is suspended immediately and remains so until a decision is made on the merits of this application, as this would ensure public funds are not misused. This request is based on Regulations 44 (2) (ii) & 58 (1) of the Universal Credit (Claims & Payments) Regulations, 2013.

  1. DWP’s Advice to Decision Maker’s Guide A4323 confirms the ability to suspend the “housing costs element” in this way” to protect public funds from misuse.
  2. You can chase up APA requests by contacting your tenant’s Case Manager at a dedicated line 0800 328 5644
  3. If that doesn’t produce the desired result, make a 1st stage complaint to your local DWP District Manager. See my members’ bulletin

Look out, for updates as well from the NRLA (RLA) website as it has very strong links with DWP, including Ministers.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd