28th March, 2017
When DWP first introduced Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) it said their purpose was to help tenants with budgeting issues sustain tenancies and protect landlords from any unnecessary rental loss. So, you would think, when a Landlord informed them via their UC 47 pro-forma, one of its tenants has misused £3600 of their “Housing Element” (4 months’ rent) DWP would respond positively to help protect the landlord and the public purse from any further misuse. Not so!
I’m currently dealing with a large Letting Agent, in the London area, who acts for many landlords and who made an APA application for redirection of the housing element of Universal Credit, in a Full Service area, when its tenant missed two monthly payments of rent. On the face of it, the case should have been an automatic APA award as the 2 months’ rent arrears satisfied the Tier-1 category for redirection.
Having heard nothing, the landlord submitted another UC47 and then a third & fourth. By that time, 4 months had been missed. The Letting Agent tried phoning DWP on a number of occasions in between, but was rebuffed by DWP staff who believed, they couldn’t speak to them and, in any case, couldn’t process the APA without firstly securing the “consent” from the tenant – yes, the same delinquent tenant who had misused £3600 of public money. Quite incredulous, don’t you think?
I picked up the baton and wrote to Neil Couling, Director General of Universal Credit believing he, or one of his senior staff would see the absurdity of the situation and immediately act to stop the nonsense. But instead, I received a holding response, stating, amongst other things, DWP couldn’t suspend payment of any future housing element, pending a decision on the redirection request. In other words, they would continue to pay the delinquent tenant the full award of Universal Credit. Even more incredulous!
Now, this is not the first time I’ve written to Mr Couling, raising exactly the same issues for my RSL & PRS clients. As far back as August 2015 I wrote to him seeking rental compensation for an RSL who had missed out on 3 APAs. At that time, claiming compensation for rental loss, due to DWP maladministration, was a relatively rare request for DWP staff. His fellow Director of Operations (Mike Baker) having secured legal advice, responded by confirming landlords could use the Complaints Process where they were dissatisfied with the progress or outcome of their application. He also confirmed my suggestion, that – “Where an APA has been applied for, and a decision cannot be made in time for the next assessment period, the payment of the Housing Cost Element should be suspended pending the APA decision and the remaining UC balance only paid to the claimant.”
I know, from speaking to many of my clients, the APA scheme is currently “not fit for purpose”, especially where the landlord doesn’t have a secure e-mail address. This particular case shows, staff at the coal-face are receiving confusing or poor advice from DWP hierarchy. To suggest they can’t speak to the landlord or progress the APA, due to the tenant withholding consent simply beggars belief. Tenant consent is NOT required.
The UC (Claims & Payments) Regulations, 2013 provide for redirection to a landlord in these circumstances. Already, DWP have 4 APA applications, demonstrating 4 months’ rent outstanding, plus know the tenant has repeatedly misused public funds, and it is acutely aware of earlier commitments made by Operational Directors which are simply not being implemented for fear of breaching Data Protection or “confidentiality, when neither are relevant factors. The landlord doesn’t need to know anything of a confidential nature, he simply wants what he’s due – redirection of the rental payment and fulfilment of the commitment made by DWP to landlords at the outset of Alternative Payment Arrangements – nothing less is acceptable!
If you wish to read more about the DWP Complaints Process; who to direct your complaints to; and how to prosecute complaints through the various stages; read one of my earlier bulletins http://universalcreditadvice.com/housing-associations/2016/09/universal-credit—your-regional-complaint-resolution-teams-explained
Let’s hope, on this occasion, good sense eventually prevails!
If you’re interested in this r any other welfare reform topic, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07733 080 389.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd