6th March, 2023
The Tribunal Service notified me, Thursday past, of two tribunal hearings, scheduled for 29th March. The following day, I received an email from DWP confirming, it had reversed both cases, in my client’s favour, and was seeking my urgent agreement, it could write to the Tribunal Service to lapse the scheduled appeals.
As both my client and Letting Agent, landlord, were delighted by the news, I agreed. This meant, an alleged overpayment of £31K was being erased, plus my client could expect to receive a backdate of UC “housing costs” element of more than £20K; enough to offset £10K in rent arrears that had accrued, preventing the need for repossession.
So, what was this all about and why did DWP, at the 11th hour, decide to reverse the decisions in both cases?
Around late August 2021 my clients moved to a new home with the same London based letting agent. My client notified Universal Credit of the change via his journal and provided a copy of his new tenancy agreement and a variety of other details to validate the claim for “housing costs”. Weeks later, he had still not heard anything, so phoned DWP and was told his claim had been passed to the “Risk Review Team” and someone from that team would be in touch. Despite repeated prompts from both my client and his landlord, months passed, until on 13th May 2022 ( 9 months later) a decision was made. The letter stated:
“Following a review of your housing evidence a decision was made that you are not entitled to the housing element of UC from 29 March 2019 because your housing costs at Smith Lane, London, could not be verified, based on enhanced checks on the evidence provided by you. Subsequently, your UC entitlement for the period 29 March 2019 to 28 August 2021 was revised to remove housing costs. This revised entitlement created an overpayment of UC amounting to £31,754.61. The decision maker decided this amount is recoverable from you.”
I was invited by the landlord to assist in September 22 and first asked DWP to provide details of why they felt the information, supplied by my clients, was insufficient or inadequate, hoping I could clarify the situation and avoid the need for appeal. However, DWP refused to provide specific details.
Dissatisfied with DWP’s reply, I referred the case back to the Area Service Leader (ASL), pointing out, that when a “revision” is invoked of an earlier decision, made by another Decision Maker (DM), it’s incumbent on the new DM to provide details of the various factors which supported such a decision. The ASL’s subsequent response simply repeated the previous message of non-cooperation:
“You asked us to provide explanation for the decision that Mr X was overpaid UC housing costs of £31,754. Unfortunately, we cannot add anything further to the information contained in the Mandatory Reconsideration Notice (MRN). Mr X has the right to appeal this decision.”
A day later, DWP sent my client a demand notice for the overpaid sum, seeking repayment, despite his ongoing appeals. In earlier bulletins, I have explained how DWP issued a new “Overpayment Recovery” policy in September 22, which has been rightly criticised by all major Social Security Committees and stakeholders. It was also the subject of a recent Court of Appeal.Judicial Review – DWPs Overpayments and Recovery Policy The policy, unlike its predecessors, seeks to recover immediately, rather than wait until disputes are resolved and is already causing considerable hardship to claimants and cash flow issues to landlords and letting agents, caught in the crossfire.
As it was clear, from the ASL’s response, DWP had no intention of reversing its decisions, I submitted an appeal concerning the alleged overpayment. The following day, I sent a more detailed submission in respect of the refusal to pay my client’s ongoing housing costs, at the new address. As both appeals related to the same claimant and landlord, and needed urgent outcomes, to stop repossession action and hardship, I asked the Tribunal Service to refer both appeals to a District Judge, in the hope of securing an early hearing date, as I was convinced, because of other similar cases I have dealt with, a savvier Decision Maker would see the merits in my arguments and reverse both decisions, avoiding the need for a Tribunal, which could have taken a further 6-12 months to arrange, by which time my client would have been evicted.
Thankfully, my ploy worked, exactly as I predicted to both the Area Service Leader and Tribunal Service. I hasten to add, not because of any mesmerising submission I made. More a case of seriously poor adjudication standards being applied by inexperienced and ill-trained DWP staff, coupled with, an associated appeal process that is lengthy (average 8-12 months) and designed to impede and frustrate, rather than resolve disputes. It’s only when you manage to put DWP under the spotlight, do they cough up. DWP’s own stats show that around 50% of UC appeals succeed!
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UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd