Good morning

Since UC was introduced, one of the biggest sources of frustration of social landlords’ staff is, DWP’s unwillingness to converse freely about tenants’ claims by phone, e-mail, or letter. In contrast, SRS staff, plus landlords in the private sector, enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with Council HB teams, based on a longstanding policy of “implicit consent” approved, by no less than DWP, who promote its use in guidance and a diagram created specifically for this purpose. Regrettably, landlords, of all types, have never been able to achieve anything like this level of liaison and cooperation with today’s DWP in its administration of Universal Credit. The fault lies entirely with DWP’s hierarchy and Policy Unit.

Why is this?

Since, day one, DWP has insisted, Universal Credit should be delivered, in the main, electronically, with claimant support available, at arms-length via Job & Service Centres. Invariably, communication is conducted with claimants, operating an online journal, or by phone or text. Contrastingly, communication with landlords was always intended to be limited. Where it does occur, it’s subject to claimant’s giving “explicit consent”, and being compliant with DWP’s interpretation of Data Protection, explained in associated guidance and a letter issued by its Director General, Neil Couling.

How does this impede and frustrate landlords?

To communicate, on behalf of tenants, SRS and PRS staff need to secure the tenant’s explicit consent, either orally (via telephone contact) or by inserting permission on their online journal or by signed mandate. Without such consent, DWP staff are unlikely to engage or share information, citing DPA and claimant confidentiality. Even with consent, DWP’s view is, the consent given, only applies for two BAPs after which it needs to be renewed.

How could we improve things?

DWP could start by applying law specifically created to do just that, and by adhering to its own internal guidance, relating to this topic and the role of landlords acting as tenant representatives.

The Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 were introduced in February 2015, permitting DWP to share information, relating to UC, with councils, social landlords, CAB, Credit Unions and registered Charities. Amongst other things, one of the objectives was:

This information can be supplied to those providers so that they can provide such advice, assistance or support and monitor and evaluate such advice, assistance or support.”

In its associated guidance to its own staff – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-with-representatives-guidance-for-dwp-staff/working-with-representatives-guidance-for-dwp-staff#:~:text=The%20representative%20could%20be%20helping,helping%20them%20manage%20their%20finances. and landlords, it points to the fact “explicit consent” is not always essential, especially when, the person enquiring, on behalf of the tenant, clearly has in their possession, information that would suggest, they are clearly acting on behalf of the tenant. In other words “implicit consent”!

It provides a good example of where the guidance should be applied.

“Example scenarios where an alternative enquiry may be considered”

“I am a friend/relative/representative of Mr X, date of birth 26/12/1952, National Insurance number QQ123456A, and:

  • he made a claim for PIP 4 weeks ago and has not heard anything. Can you tell me what is happening?”
  • he has had a letter saying that his claim for Employment and Support Allowance has been disallowed. Can you tell me why?”
  • he has a letter saying that he will be paid £xxx per week. Can you tell me how this has been calculated?”

In these cases, the caller has specific information about the customer’s claim and is requesting information that is consistent with the role of a representative. It can, therefore, be assumed that an “alternative enquiry” exists, and information disclosed.” The guidance is current, as I stumbled across it a month or so back while looking for its COVID relaxation measures.

If DWP staff applied this guidance it would greatly assist all stakeholders, including vulnerable tenants and DWP itself, to resolve disputes over claims and reviews. However, when SRS staff raise its potential use and encourage its application, DWP’s staffs’ reaction is one of incredulity the guidance actually exists!

So, if you haven’t already tried, I would recommend you speaking to your local Practice Manager to see if this helpful advice could be implemented, when written authority, for one reason or another, can’t be secured? I’d be interested, if you do raise and pursue this, in hearing how DWP’s responds?

We also need to pursue, with greater determination, DWP’s refusal to act on information, provided by landlords, intimating there has been a change in the tenant’s circumstances (e.g. April 2020 increase) as its current advice & practices are at odds with both the legislation and, again, its own internal guidance. This is causing wholly avoidable rental loss to both tenants and landlords.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd

www.ucadvice.co.uk