28th May, 2019
I’m sure, like me, you’ll not have been surprised by DWP’s latest update (24th April) on the promised, SRS Landlord Portal solution to the annual rent uprating exercise. Yet another delay and broken commitment!
DWP’s explanation – “the delivery of a process that meets your needs continues to be our aim, but that needs to be balanced with ensuring that new features do not have any adverse effect on the UC system and also meet our legal responsibilities under GDPR”. Completely unacceptable!
In my 16th March bulletin – “DWP’s Bungled Guidance” I commented:
“Claimants and landlords are entitled to expect better from DWP. It makes big claims about the efficacy of its Landlord Portal, supposedly servicing 90% of SRS tenancies when, in fact, less than 25% have transitioned to Full Service. In truth, the Portal is still only a fledgling system, lacking in functionality and data, creating, in turn, the constant need for landlord or tenant workarounds. Hopefully, we’ll see real progress in the next year, including the elimination of this archaic process.”
Sadly, DWP has let the sector down, yet again. Meantime, only 71% of tenants have managed to upload their new details, creating, in turn potential over and under-payments, for the other 29% who,as yet, haven’t reponded.
Whose fault is this?
Not suprisingly, DWP’s view – “as it remains the claimant’s responsibility to notify all changes of circumstance (including housing costs), and the Bulk Upload functionality is not intended to replace this.”.
The truth is, DWP have made a meal of this issue. It’s original advice of stating tenants, rather than their landlords, must report the change in rental charge was and still is completely misleading. As I explained, where payment of the “housing costs element” is being redirected to the landlord, either through UC 47 or Portal, it creates an obligation on that landlord, similar to that of their tenant, to report any change that could have a material impact on the award.
For example, in the event, of an English council or housing association, failing to report a drop in the rental charge; as recipient of your tenant’s housing costs, you could be pursued for any overpayment that subsequently arises.
Similarly, in Scotland, where an SRS landlord sent DWP a spreadsheet of your tenant’s new rental charge, effective from 1st April 2019, DWP had an obligation to act on that. Council Housing Benefit teams have doing just that for far too many years to remember.
In a separate bulletin I explain when and how a change should be reported during the Benefit Assessment Period (BAP), not, as DWP suggest, after the actual event. DWP’s hierarchy committed to investigating the position on 18th March having read my bulletin. I’ve since followed this up twice, including Mr Neil Couling (DWP’s Director General) as one of the email recipients. Amongst other things, I said:
“Local authorities have operated a very successful automated process for years, which effectively updates the tenant’s HB award to accommodate the new rental charge. DWP has had 6 years to come up with a comparable solution but has failed miserably in this respect. This year’s failure had two stages to it. Firstly, the advice provided to landlords neither complied with the relevant legislation, as I’ve explained in my members’ bulletins or DWP’s own guidance. You then failed to produce the promised “portal” solution, placing even more onus and extra work on both the associations and their tenants.”
I regret to say, DWP’s hierarchy, including Mr Couling, has still failed to address these important issues, which will become, all the more critical, over the next 4 years as aim to add 4-5 million more claimants to the UC caseload, many of whom will be your tenants. If you haven’t already done so, I’d start presssing DWP, through your respective federations, MPs, MSPs, Ministers otherwise you could experience a similar fiasco next year.
In the meantime, I’ll happily assist any SRS landlord client, that encounters difficulties in their attempts to implement my advice, challenging DWP’s indefensible position.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd