Good morning & best wishes for the New Year

I’m pleased to say, 2022 has already produced a couple of successes for clients. The first concerned a private landlord who had provided accommodation to an ex homeless hostel dweller, in July 2021, anticipating his UC award would include an amount of “housing costs” equal to the 1-bedroom rate of Local Housing Allowance, allowing him to meet his share of the contractual rent, associated with his joint tenancy.

However, having notified DWP of the change in circumstances, it decided to pay the much lower Shared Accommodation rate, making it impossible for him to meet his share of the rent. But with the help of his landlord, a long-term client of our services, he manged to secure the correct rate. Some months later, and much to the landlord and tenant’s surprise, DWP unexpectedly changed its mind, reinstated the Shared Rate, immediately put the tenancy in jeopardy and exposed the tenant unnecessarily to the threat of eviction and homelessness.

I was asked to intervene and with the assistance of the landlord, secured a signed mandate, appointing me representative of the tenant. I immediately fired off an email to the local Service Leader (District Manager) seeking a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) pointing to the merits of the tenant’s claim and urging DWP to further amend the award.

Literally, within hours of me writing, the tenant received a call from DWP, recommending he should alter his housing status to “supported accommodation”. The tenant, not knowing any better, acted in accordance with DWP’s instructions. Days later he was advised his “housing costs” had been completely withdrawn, and an overpayment of £2000 housing costs had been created as he was living in “supported accommodation” and should have been claiming housing benefit for the previous 4 months.

Bewildered by DWP’s reaction and handling of my MR, I wrote again to its Service Leader explaining:

  1. My client was living in a 2-bed property, which he was sharing with another person on a joint tenancy scenario.
  2. His private landlord did not provide support; he had no need for support, nor was any provided. Consequently, the accommodation couldn’t possibly be described as “supported accommodation”.
  3. Although my client was under 35, he was entitled to the 1-bed rate on the basis he had previously resided for more than 3 months in a Homeless Hostel. This was one of the exceptions that permitted DWP to pay the higher 1 bed rate.

I included links to DWP’s own website confirming my clients eligibility and, as if to reinforce the point referred them to one of my earlier bulletins, explaining how the exceptions to the under 35 rule operates. Spelling it out in this way, I was hoping DWP’s Decision Maker would quickly see the merit in my client’s case and remedy the chaos and anxiety caused by his/her colleagues.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. It took another 2 months of repeated calls and emails to DWP’s hierarchy, before we were we able to confirm to the tenant, his rent arrears of nearly £3000 had been cleared, the alleged overpayment written off and his accommodation was now secure.

Cases of this type and others, closely related, should not pose any major problems, because the rules and associated guidance are well established. Regrettably they do occur, on an all too frequent basis and are primarily caused by DWP staffs’ lack of training and poor understanding of what constitutes, “supported”, “exempt” and “temporary” accommodation.

If you or any of your tenants are experiencing Housing Benefit or Universal Credit related problems you can’t resolve yourselves, please contact me for advice and, where necessary, assistance & advocacy or telephone 07733 080 389

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd