Good afternoon

Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of the most common questions I’m asked by PRS landlords and agents are:

  1. How can I secure the “housing costs element” (HCE) of Universal Credit direct to me; and
  2. Does the tenant have to provide their consent before DWP will act on my request?

To answer the first of these questions, I would refer you to DWP’s Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) scheme and, in particular, the criteria that DWP “Decision Makers” should consider before deciding whether to redirect payments, in favour of the landlord.

The tier 1 factors can be found here  If you examine the document, you’ll find there are 10 different factors listed under Tier 1 which are “highly likely” to or “most probably” will, lead to payment being paid to the landlord, rather than the tenant.

Around 60% of all APAs arise from “Tier 1.8” – Rent Arrears. The criteria include:

  • claimant is currently in arrears with their rent for an amount equal to or more than 2 months of their rent
  • claimant has continually underpaid their rent over more than 2 months, and they have accrued arrears of an amount equal to or more than one month’s rent
  • claimant has been evicted for rent arrears within the last 12 months
  • claimant is subject to threatened eviction and/or repossession 

Although the criteria is well published, DWP staff seem to concentrate on the 2 months’ rule, overlooking the others, even though they’re no less important. So, it’s left to landlords when submitting their online applications to identify the grounds on which their application is based and provide supporting evidence – usually, a rent statement for rent. In other Tier 1 cases (e.g. mental health, drug or alcohol addiction) it’s important to secure some evidence, in the form of a letter or email, from a GP, health worker, psychiatric nurse etc. to support and validate the grounds of your request.

Click the following link to make application to have your tenant’s “housing costs element” and an amount towards any arrears that may have accrued. DWP should, on receipt, acknowledge your application, and suspend payment of the “housing costs element”, pending a decision on the merits of your application. Mr Neil Couling, DWP’s Director General agreed to this approach in August 2015.

Prior to December 2017, DWP insisted on “explicit consent” being given by the tenant, before payment could be redirected. However, this flawed policy was replaced by notifying the tenant and giving him/her 1 week in which to challenge redirection. But in order to do so, the tenant must produce credible evidence to undermine the validity of their landlord’s application. Despite the fact, the rule was changed 30 months ago, some DWP staff still have not got the message, as many landlords are given that “old chestnut” as the grounds for refusal.

The process I’ve outlined doesn’t apply to Social Landlords, who have access to an online portal, which is much more effective and responsive, but still not the finished article as it fails to provide all the basic information Housing Benefit portals already provide. DWP’s latest version for PRS landlords was piloted & tested by a number of my landlord & letting agent clients. Overall, the new system is much better, more reliable and much less likely to cause rental loss.

If you have any questions on this or any other Universal Credit topic, please get in touch, or 07733 080 389. You might also consider becoming a member of our site, so we can keep you up to date with all UC and HB developments. The website provides access to all UC legislation, Decision Maker’s guidance, “Ask our Expert” Q & A, Policy in Practice’s UC calculator and ensures you receive, automatically, our regular updating bulletins.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd.