13th June, 2023
You may recall my earlier bulletins, highlighting the chaos caused by DWP’s retrospective review of UC awards made during COVID when the customary validation checks were relaxed, causing £6 Billion in overpayments in 2020/21. To counter the surge in overpayments, DWP created a Risk Review team (RRT) with instructions to review all awards, made during COVID restrictions, to ensure they were made legitimately. Nothing wrong with that, but from what I’m seeing, the team is operating in cavalier fashion, causing many legitimate claimants the worry of having their past awards cancelled, with associated demands for repayment. In many instances, the landlord is being pursued for recovery, simply because they received payment, with large sums being whipped off their monthly scheduled payments, without prior warning. Clearly, this is malpractice and an abuse of power.
One of my private landlord clients, based in London has, so far, experienced 5 such cases, all involving tenants, who encounter language and communication issues, when conversing with DWP staff via their journals. In each case, their previous UC award was revised to their disadvantage, mainly through the retrospective withdrawal of their “housing costs element”, causing overpayments of over £20K per case and cancellation of their HCE going forward. I assisted each tenant appeal their decision, negotiated an expedited hearing, made a written submission, and before the hearing, each was conceded, eradicating the overpayments, plus backdates of between £18-24K.
The latest case involved Bulgarian nationals, who lodged their UC appeal, with the assistance of their landlord, on 1st September 22. The case was languishing with DWP because it had asked for extensions of time to respond to Directions Notices from appointed Judge’s, and then failed to comply. The appeal related to the refusal of housing costs. The couple’s landlord had been very patient but as the rent arrears continued to increase, they applied for and secured a repossession order, and Bailiff appointment for 23rd May 2023. As a last resort, the landlord asked me to assist, in the hope of avoiding the need for eviction.
I immediately wrote to the Tribunal Service seeking a copy of DWP’s appeal submission and sought the intervention of a District Judge to expedite matters, due to the pending eviction. My note included the following comments:
“I haven’t seen DWP’s submission but if it’s anything like earlier cases I’ve dealt with, concerning Bulgarian/Turkish tenants of the same landlord it will be seriously flawed. Three earlier cases were conceded at the 11th hour, due to the lack of justification for denying the “housing costs” going forward and even less for the flawed overpayment claims. If my fears are justified, there is likely to be a need for a District Judge to intervene to ensure all the facts are teased out before the hearing. This will inevitably cause further delay and the likelihood of this couple losing their home needlessly. We really need to expedite this case ASAP.”
To the Tribunal Service’s credit, it responded, within 2 weeks, by organising a hearing for 8th June. However, I was holidaying in Spain, so couldn’t attend. Rather than postpone the hearing, I arranged for the landlord to accompany his tenant to the appeal, along with a detailed submission I created. It was highly critical of DWP’s submission and included a statement to the effect:
“The MR Notices issued in both decisions (overpayment & current entitlement) appear to reflect the fact a template is being routinely used, with the respective DM being left to infill the personal factors of the case being considered. They suggest the author(s) may simply be copying & pasting extracts from earlier decisions and/or DWP’s Advice to DM Guide. It also appears, from the clear lack of detail, the Decision Maker is not entirely au fait with the complex issue he/she is trying to determine and explain. It’s all very vague and unconvincing.”
I’m pleased to say, DWP conceded both appeals, the day before the hearing, just as they had done in 3 of the earlier cases. As well as the overpayment being wiped out, the tenant was awarded £24.5K, sufficient to clear their rent arrears and prevent the eviction.
If you’re encountering problems, like these or can’t force DWP to respond to Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) requests, please get in touch, as we invariably should be able to assist. I can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 07733 080 389
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd