16th February, 2020
For the 7th year in succession, DWP has failed to produce a satisfactory automated solution, to the annual rent uprating exercise, despite its senior managment, promising me, last year, a solution by Easter 2019!
In its guidance, issued to SRS landlords, on 29th January, 2020, DWP insists, that other than those rents reported via the SRS portal, notification of changes MUST come from the tenant, and be notified via their personal journal, after receiving a “to-do” and AFTER the change has taken effect. Neither of these assertions is correct!
As I explained last year, Landlords who receive the “housing costs element” on behalf of their tenant(s) are legally obliged to notify DWP of any material change, like a rent increase/reduction, vacation of property, temporary absence etc. Failure to do so, could result in your organisation being pursued for overpayments and administrative fines, caused by your failure to disclose, disadvantageous changes.
So, in APA cases, if an SRS landlord supplied DWP with all the relevant information, either individually or through a spreadsheet, as used to happen during “live service” delivery, its Decision Makers could NOT refuse to act on this information, as its relevant to the award of the “housing costs element” and warrants “supersession” – an alteration to their “eligible” charge. Adopting such an approach, doesn’t remove your tenants’ own obligation, but acts as an insurance policy, especially for those “vulnerable” tenants who fail or delay in reporting the change themselves.
Changes, relating to Universal Credit, must also be notified, not after the change, as DWP’s guidance suggests, but during the Benefit Assessment Period (BAP) in which the change occurs. DWP’s Senior Management agreed with this approach in 2014, when I first pursued this on behalf of my landlord clients. Furthermore, any delay in doing so, in the case of an advantageous change, could prejudice the chance of the tenant securing their rightful entitlement.
In a previous members’ bulletin, I pointed you to the relevant part of UC legislation, so I won’t repeat this. But, support for my explanation, can be found in DWP’s own internal guidance. It produces an “Advice to Decision to Makers’ Guide” which is included, in full, in our website. At Paragraph A4201 it states: “For UC, it should be noted that the change should be notified in the assessment period in which the change occurs”. Despite this acknowledgement of the correct approach, DWP’s current IT system, prevents a tenant reporting the change in rental increase in accordance with both legislation and guidance.
Paragraphs A4204/9 explain what needs to be done where a notification is made out with the BAP. Effectively, the claimant needs to seek an extension and justify the delay in notification. Failure to do so results in benefit loss.
It should be patently clear, to anyone with even a basic knowledge of Universal Credit legislation, that DWP’s guidance to landlords, is completely at odds with both the legislation and its own guidance and practice. In contrast, if a tenant vacates their property, DWP applies the “whole month rule” to the BAP by removing the “housing costs element” for the “whole” of the BAP.
Claimants and landlords are entitled to expect better from DWP and, I have to say, their own representative bodies, who year-on-year have failed to secure a suitable fix. DWP’s Directorate makes big claims about the efficacy of its Landlord Portal. 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, the effect of which, many tenants and landlords lose out, unnecessarily, in the process.
If you require any further information on this or any other welfare reform topic, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or 07733 080 389.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd