The political and media spotlight just now is on the Universal Credit fiasco, and rightly so; every day brings another headline. Ian Duncan Smith (IDS) was recalled, earlier this week, by the Work & Pensions Committee, after its Chair and members complained they had been seriously misled by Ministers, especially on the blatantly obvious lack of preparedness and ever escalating costs associated with its IT development. During the course of being seriously grilled, we discovered, the recently appointed Universal Credit head honcho, has been off sick. The Times reported: “The former Olympics executive drafted in to rescue the Government’s flagship welfare reform has been off sick since before Christmas. Howard Shiplee, who was hired last May to oversee the controversial universal credit programme, has effectively been working part-time since then, keeping in touch with officials via conference calls.” Not exactly what the Coalition Ministers were hoping for.

Alongside this, Inside Housing’s Carl Brown produced a piece which caught my eye http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/analysis/white-knuckle-ride/7001888. He was reporting on the experiences of some of the RSLs participating in the Universal Credit Pathfinder areas and the difficulties already being experienced with DWP:

“One of the biggest complaints from landlords has been about the APA (alternative payment arrangements) application process. Under Universal Credit, landlords have to phone a UC helpline, and then follow up with a letter to a DWP service centre and wait for a decision. A number of landlords in the first four ‘pathfinder’ universal credit areas have reported that the DWP has not acknowledged receipt of APA requests, is unable to confirm the progress of the request or has taken weeks to make a decision – in which time the tenant has racked up more arrears.

Peter Fitzhenry, director of housing management at 8,700-home Golden Gates Housing Trust, said GGHT has resorted to sending APA requests by recorded delivery because paperwork kept going missing. ‘There is no system in place,’ he adds”.

In August 2011 I wrote an article along similar lines for a PRS magazine www.welfarereformsadvice.co.uk/articles/YPN_BillIrvine_Aug2011.pdf the title of the piece was “Hitting the DWP Brick Wall”. In the narrative, I refer to similar difficulties I had encountered dealing with the DWP in relation to a Housing Benefit (LHA) issue, for a tenant living in Willesden, London whose DWP office was based in Belfast. It included the content of an e-mail I sent to Ian Duncan- Smith and Lord Freud highlighting my concerns over what can only be described as DWP maladministration, and how the issues I’d highlighted, if not addressed urgently, could scupper the delivery of Universal Credit and cause havoc to Social & PRS landlords and tenants alike. I concluded the article:”

“Looking ahead to the Government’s plans in respect of Universal Credit (UC) which is designed to effectively abolish HB/LHA as we know it, and replace it with a “housing element”, built into the UC proposed caps, all of which is to be administered by the same DWP, fills me with absolute dread for both tenants and landlords alike. Council administration, even with its faults, is a far better option than a DWP driven service operated from regional call centres by staff that are, by comparison, poorly trained, in receipt of minimum wages, de-motivated, and utilising systems and procedures geared more to impeding and frustrating than actually resolving problems”.

The recent DWP publication, aimed at social & PRS landlords, provides amongst other things, an insight into even further Universal Credit delays, which, given the current disarray, is not a bad thing. It’s surely plain to see; the Social Security Ministerial team and DWP are just not fit for the task of delivering the Coalition’s overly ambitious Universal Credit objectives, and never will be.

Contrastingly, Councils have been successfully delivering Housing Benefit (LHA) for 30+ years; Discretionary Housing Payments; the highly controversial “Bedroom Tax”, the Benefits Cap; Council Tax Reduction scheme, and now operate part of what used to be known as the Social Fund, all at local level, assisting, where necessary, claimants and liaising well with landlords. At some point, you’d like to think, the penny would drop that continuing the process with a DWP administration is flogging an old horse which should be put out to pasture. It’s about time the Government started looked elsewhere for its Social Security fix. It could do worse than start speaking to the same councils about a more realistic strategy, timetable, and methodology, as they have a demonstrable track record, a million times better than anything the DWP will ever produce.

If you require any further information on this article or any other welfare reform issue, please e-mail bill@ucadvice or call me on 07733 080 389. Alternatively, if you wish to become a member of our website services www.ucadvice.co.uk please contact me