Good morning

Our March bulletin explaining the uprating order and its impact on tenants’ personal and housing cost awards, attracted considerable attention and discussion.

Since then, several private members have raised concerns over some tenants failing to report the change in rent charge, causing rent arrears. They also question DWP’s unwillingness to update the account themselves, using information provided by landlords.

When questioned, DWP claims, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to report the change and without their validation, the account can’t be altered. There’s no doubt, the primary responsibility rests with the tenant, and for the most part, they comply. However, around 10% fail to, for various reasons e.g. language, IT difficulties, mental health or drug addiction etc. creating a threat to the sustainment of their tenancy. So what can be done?

In my opinion, DWP’s stance is both misleading and unjust. If you’ve already tried to engage with these tenants and failed, for whatever reason, and alerted DWP to the problem, its staff (Work Coaches or Case Managers) should attempt to make contact, and persuade the tenant to update their account. If that fails, its Decision Makers should be asked to “supersede” the award from the Benefit Assessment Period in which it was reported, at least. In some case, where there are mitigating factors, you could ask that the revision be retrospective.

DWP produces its own guidance to Decision Makers. Paragraph A4365 confirms the DM can alter the award in the way described above. It states:

“DM’s own initiative” – A4365 – Where a DM supersedes on their own initiative to deal with a change of circumstances and the result is advantageous to the claimant the supersession takes effect from the first day of the AP in which action was started. There’s a specific rule requiring landlords to notify changes of this type. UC, PIP, JSA & ESA (Claims & P) Regs. – Regulation 38 

Sections 38 (1), (4) & (9) confirm, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions expects landlords, who receive Direct Payments, to report changes promptly. The purpose in reporting changes is obvious; to ensuure awards are corrected accordingly.

DWP’s ability to do what I’m suggesting has been available since UC was introduced, in April 2013. It’s reticence to do so, is simply down to the fact, it would create additional work, for staff already overloaded and under stress. Nevertheless, the UC regulations and its own guidance, suggests it should be doing exactly what’s I’m suggesting, and certainly not flatly refusing, placing the onus on landlords’ staff, and leaving the problem unresolved. In contrast, if the change was disadvantageous, the DM would, almost certainly, intervene to reduce the award and avoid an overpayment.

With this in mind, I have prepared a draft letter/email which, if you’re interest in pursuing this issue, you could send to DWP’s Practice Manager or Area Service leader. I would also be willing to provide additional support, if you encounter any push-back.

My contact details are bill@ucadvice.co.uk or phone 07733 080 389.

Regards

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd