27th May, 2015
As the roll-out of Universal Credit expands geographically (latest from DWP https://www.gov.uk/government/news/universal-credit-roll-out-continues ) more and more of our website www.ucadvice.co.uk clients are experiencing their first taste of the new scheme. Although, as predicted, the number of tenants affected are low, the amount of time they’re spending on each case is disproportionately high, by comparison with what they’re accustomed to with housing benefit. This is mainly due to the arms–length nature of the DWP processes and outdated modes of delivery, plus the fact there is, little or no facility for direct communication with Decision Makers.
The service being delivered by DWP’s regional offices, like Wolverhampton & Bolton is normally painstakingly slow. APA applications, with supporting evidence, are often being mislaid and Landlord Managed Payments whilst, on the whole, very successful (some clients achieving 50-60% success), they’re sometimes taking weeks to process. Contact with both these offices is frustrated by the insistence of posting documentation; lack of e-mail facilities; and calls being redirected to “virtual“ call centres and staff lacking proper training.
In a number of cases, I’m helping both private and social landlord clients to pursue compensation from DWP where:
- DWP wrote to my clients, promising payment of the “housing element” and then mistakenly paid the tenant instead, who then promptly misused the “housing element”, leaving my client substantially out of pocket and the tenant in rent arrears; and
- In other cases, my clients submitted an application for Landlord Managed Payments, on Tier 1 grounds, due to their tenants “vulnerability” (mental health; alcohol/drug addiction; or past delinquency in terms of non-payment, threatened eviction etc.) but despite enclosing supporting evidence (third party letters from specialists/support staff and/or rent statements) payment continued being paid to the tenant. Why? Would you believe some DWP staff in Bolton, not realising they could suspend payment of the “housing element” itself, simply continued paying the full award to tenants, in the full knowledge they had misused the previous months’ payment!
I’m accustomed to pursuing compensation for RSL & Private clients, under both the Housing Benefit (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA) schemes and have, in the past, secured some very large payments. In one case, £7000, where the tenant, a single mother, received the £7000 LHA payment, just before Christmas, banked it, flagged a taxi, and spent the lot on herself and kids; knowing of course, the money wasn’t truly hers! The Council, in that case, had to make a further payment to the landlord to compensate for his loss.
In that case, and many others besides, the HB & LHA schemes provide us with plenty ammunition to support claims for recompense. DWP guidance, for example, suggests that the “first payment” (following a new claim and/or suspension) of HB/LHA, should be made by cheque, payable in the name of the landlord, to extinguish or reduce the rent liability. Furthermore, where a HB/LHA decision letter is sent to the landlord (social or private) confirming payment will be made to them to protect the housing costs, any payment made by mistake to a tenant, doesn’t constitute a payment of HB/LHA, allowing a further “lawful” payment being made to the landlord, in satisfaction of the decision first made. Upper-tier caselaw also reinforces the need to pay in such circumstances.
I believe these same principles, which make perfect sense, should have been applied to Universal Credit from the start, but they’re not; hence the numerous complaints!
During the course of my exchanges with DWP hierarchy it’s been acknowledged that the current “complaints process” is not suited to Universal Credit’s various modes of delivery, so a new one is being hurriedly devised. I’ve agreed to participate in the development of the new process and hope to be able to write to you further about this in the near future. In the meantime, I’d recommend you pursue all such complaints, firstly with the DWP’s Bolton office and thereafter address them to Mr Neil Couling, Director General (Universal Credit).
If you require any further information on this or any other aspect of Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, LHA etc. please do not hesitate to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or 07733 080 389.