Good afternoon

DWP continues to prevaricate on demands by SRS landlords, that it must act on notifications of ‘changes of circumstances’ that affect their tenants’ UC entitlement, and, in particular, their “housing costs element. Hard to believe, but we’re now 7 years and change into DWP’s administration of the Government’s “flagship” benefit and we’re still awaiting a solution to how DWP handles the annual rent uprating. Currently, DWP insists that the change must be reported by the tenant, via their online journal and for the most part, SRS landlords encourage their tenants to do just that. However, each year, there are many vulnerable casualties, who fail to do that, despite the promptings of their landlords’ staff and simply incur unnecessary debts.

A couple of months ago, I assisted my clients at Queens Cross HA to pursue around a dozen of their cases, where the tenants concerned, had failed, for a variety of reasons, to report their April 2020 increase in rental charge. The Association compiled a list of these cases, which were then submitted, with a detailed submission, referring to UC legislation, DWP guidance and extracts from DWP’s “Advice to Decision Maker’s Guidance” all of which, overwhelmingly supports the landlords’ position. DWP’s Scottish Area Director referred all the details to her legal eagle colleagues in London. Fully two months later, we’re still waiting, with not even a call or email acknowledgement from the lawyers.

On a more positive note, it’s heartening to hear of more HAs picking up the baton, of their own accord, and challenging DWP’s indefensible position. If your organisation hasn’t, yet, pursued this issue, but have a number of cases where tenants have still to report their April 2020 rental change, I would encourage you to do so by pursuing the following course of action.

The first thing is, collate, in a spreadsheet, details of cases, where changes have occurred and you’re aware, the tenant hasn’t reported this through their online journal or by phone to DWP. I would then email DWP’s nearest Service Leader or Area Director along the following lines:

Dear XXXXXXXX

XXXXXXX HA (or Co-op, Council or PRS landlord) have several tenants who have failed to notify DWP of their rent increase in April 2020, despite repeated promptings from this organisation’s staff.

In each case, the tenants concerned are accruing rent arrears unnecessarily, putting themselves and their tenancies in jeopardy. Our staffs’ attempts to assist the tenants, in question, have so far been unsuccessful.

Bill Irvine, UC Advice & Advocacy advises, DWP’s refusal to act on information, produced by a tenant’s landlord, contradicts both the legislation and your own own guidance to staff. He directs us to Regulation 38 of the UC (Claims & Payments) Regulations 2013. The relevant parts of which we have copied below: 

Evidence and information in connection with an award

38.—(1) This regulation, apart from paragraph (7), applies to any person entitled to benefit, other than a jobseeker’s allowance, and any other person by whom, or on whose behalf, payments by way of such a benefit are receivable.

So, a landlord receiving Alternative Payment Arrangements, on behalf of a tenant, would clearly fall into this category.

Furthermore, at paragraph 10.2 of DWP guidance appearing on your own website it reinforces this point, where it states: 

Whilst a MPTL is in place the landlord must notify the department of any changes which a landlord can be reasonably expected to know which might affect the claimant’s entitlement to Universal Credit and the amount awarded.

All of this serves to support the fact, landlords have an obligation to report material changes in our tenants’ circumstances. Correspondingly, DWP has an obligation to act on such information, by superseding awards to reflect the new circumstances, no matter whether they increase or reduce entitlement. In the case of rent increases, this would be viewed as a beneficial change to the tenant.

The landlords’ position mirrors exactly, the situation experienced by tenants, currently receiving Housing Benefit. My colleagues and I routinely notify the Council of a range of changes, including the annual rent increase, and these are acted on without question. This mutually beneficial arrangement makes perfect sense, to all concerned and ensures all HB tenants are awarded the correct rate of benefit, thus avoiding the type of situation currently being experienced by UC tenants.

DWP’s position of simply noting changes, intimated by landlords, and then refusing to act on this, maes absolutely no sense to anyone. For example, adopting that same approach, where the change involves a tenant vacating a property or experiencing a rental reduction would clearly create a whoolly unwarranted overpayment. If UC legislation and your own guidance confirms, landlords are obliged to notify any change that affects the level or duration of a tenant’s Universal Credit award, and they fulfil their obligation, you MUST surely have to act on this information or what would be the point of Parliament creating such an obligation in the first place?

Furthermore, why are UC tenants being treated less favourably, than tenants receiving HB, adminsitered by councils, who do respond to our notifications. Is this not a case of unfair discrimination?

For these reasons, please find attached a spreadsheet, with details of the tenants that have yet to notify you of their April 2020 rent increase; their address; post code; old and new rent charges; NINO and DOB.

Using this information, we would ask you to review and revise each award, back to April 2020, when the change occurred, on the basis, the information previously supplied by DWP to SRS landlords, was blatantly misleading, on no less than 3 levels:

  1. Contrary to your advice, Landlords do indeed have both the right AND obligation to notify changes in circumstances of tenants who have their housing costs redirected to their landlord via an APA. Equally, DWP has an obligation to act on this information; and
  2. Contrary to your advice, notification of any change should be made during the Benefits Assessment Period and NOT only after the date of change, as FAQ guide suggests and your IT system set-up expects; and
  3. Contrary to your advice, the discretion to make a retrospective “supersession” only takes effect when the tenant fails to report, during the BAP and this can be extended for up to 12 months, where good reason for the delay exists. Obviously, the quicker the change is reported the better to ensure no loss is experienced.

Please acknowledge receipt and confirm your acceptance of this proposal or provide detailed reasons why you’re unwilling to comply, as we plan to pursue an adverse outcome to ensure neither our tenant or the Association loses out financially, due to DWP malpractice and intransigence.

XXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXX

ENDS

In the event you decide to pursue this issue with DWP, I’ll happily assist you in the event you encounter any push-back.

Regards,

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd

www.ucadvice.co.uk