6th October, 2015
DWP has from Monday of this week (4th June 2015) introduced a new escalation telephony service line (0345 266 0041) for registered social landlord and local authority (LAs) with urgent “housing cost” enquiries. The line will not be available to private sector landlords.
Registered Social Landlords and LAs operating in the “live sites” had been expressing increasing concerns about lengthy delays with APA’s and repeated incidents of payments being mistakenly continued or redirected to tenants, even after letters confirming payment to the landlord had been issued. Follow-up urgent enquiries were either remaining unacknowledged or were taking far too long to resolve or be escalated within the Universal Credit (UC) Service Centre.
Many applications for landlord managed payments were being misplaced by the Mail Opening Unit (MOU) or were taking weeks, sometimes months to process, and payments due to landlords were being consistently misused by tenants, causing rent arrears. Similar delays and problems were also being encountered with “third party deductions” which, as you know, are designed to help reduce rent arrears.
UC currently operates a process whereby Social Landlords and LAs can escalate “urgent” queries via a dedicated email inbox firstname.lastname@example.org, and if they receive no reply, they could call a dedicated telephone extension number answered by the Housing Costs Team. This arrangement was similarly set up in response to landlords’ complaints about the poor quality of service. However, as the volume of calls to this number increased as the number of associated claims increased, it became apparent the current process was no longer fit for purpose”. DWP management to their credit finally accepted that the arrangements needed a new approach and set up the fully dedicated telephony service line – hence the change in approach.
A new dedicated telephony service line was launched 4th June 15. From this same date the previous service number 01204 514474 became obsolete.
The new number is 0345 266 0041 and is now available Monday to Friday 10-12noon and 2-4pm. In their release, DWP stress –“To avoid high volumes between 10am and 2pm we recommend that landlords and council staff stagger their calls across the two periods. DWP also stressed, that “under no circumstances should this number be given to claimants/tenants”.
So when can the number be used?
Firstly, the number should only be used in urgent cases requiring a response within 24 hours. Typically, this would involve someone being threatened with court action/eviction proceedings.
The full DWP press release, which is attached, states:
“This new service line is only to be used once the current ‘business as usual’ escalation routes have failed. Prior to calling the new service line Registered Social Landlords and LA’s will be required to complete the following process:
- Only after completing the ‘business as usual’ process (RSLs phoning 0845 6000723), and not receiving a satisfactory outcome within the timescales, should Registered Social Landlords and LA’s call the new service line.
- Any inappropriate calls will be redirected to the appropriate channel and investigated/analysed for root cause.
- Please note: This facility is a temporary arrangement for use in the current UC Live Service and may not form a part of the Digital delivery of UC services.
Yet another step in the right direction for RSLs and council housing providers. The new process wil be warmly welcomed by social landlords but concerns remain, that as the numbers of Landlord Managed Payment applications escalate, so will the attendant problems of delays and mistakes occurring, unless the new service is scaled up timeously – will it be, methinks not!
Furthermore, private landlords find themselves being treated differently, despite earlier claims by DWP this wouldn’t happen. Private landlords and their tenants well recall the experiences of 2008-2010 when the govermnet of the day (labour) decided to hand over HB payments to tenants. What happened? Rent arrears went through the roof and forced DWP to retract, by introducing in April 2011 a range of “safeguards” which almost guaranteed 100% payments back to the PRS landlord. Consequently, it’s not surprising PRS landlords will find this latest example of positive discrimination towards their social cousins, both unfair and unpalatable.