As we start the new year, Universal Credit delivery is being extended to another 6 Pathfinder sites. The “claimant commitment” and associated “benefit sanctions” are being rolled out to all 20,000 Job Centres, and are already creating major problems for both tenants and landlords alike. Making benefit claims, using digital services, is now being promoted in Jobcentres, HMRC and councils; with councils frequently insisting that Housing Benefit claims must now be submitted online or over the phone, rather than use paper claims. Because the process is still relatively new, many housing associations are reporting a considerable increase in documentation going astray, claims either being delayed for weeks/months, or being suspended and later cancelled causing HB gaps and arrears.
With all the changes, delays & disruption, it’s not surprising more and more housing associations are contacting us, wishing to organise training for their frontline troops, so that they can better tackle some of these difficulties to protect both the interest of tenants and the organisation itself.
DWP have advised that the 6 Demonstration Projects and 12 LA local projects will shortly report on their findings. Most importantly, the findings from these various exercises will shape the glut of “DWP Guidance” heading your way, including, how to determine such things as when tenants will be treated as “vulnerable” and how this, in turn, may lead to payment of UC being redirected to the landlord from day one. Alternatively, where payment is made originally to the tenant, the guidance will lay out the process of how to secure redirection following 2 months of arrears or where arrears amounting to 1 month accrues over an extended period. The guidance will equally explain how association staff will be able to challenge refused requests for “landlord Managed payments” as they’re being called.
Housing Benefit administration, so important to social landlord rental income (£17 Billion), is now likely to be extended to 2019. However, on the downside, it’s delivery is poorer now than ever before, as cash strapped councils cut back on staffing levels, critical training, use “Call centres” and significantly increase the rate of claw-back from associations’ HB awards, through over-zealous recovery of Housing Benefit Overpayments. These claw-backs currently account for £1.3 Billion in potential recoveries every year, usually at the expense of landlords. Because there’s a clear correlation between Housing Benefit payments and rent arrears, all of this adversely impacts on association cash-flows, rent arrears and the need to consider legal action. Anyone who has involvement with Housing Benefit will know that the next few years will be a constantly changing environment, with DWP regularly issuing updates and amendments, changing policy and practice, as it discovers a range of unintentional consequences arising from both the legislation and guidance or the courts/tribunals force their hands following appeals.
So with all this in mind, Housing Associations should be looking at in-house training for staff and management. You might wish to consider doing this on your own or share the cost with neighbouring associations, the most common way nowadays as it cuts down costs quite dramatically. At the very least, in this ever-changing environment, you need to constantly reviewing & refreshing your in-house strategies on, how to maximise your rental income, minimise rent arrears, and costs associated with recovery & enforcement. Testimonials on the quality of our training and support services can be examined at http://www.ucadvice.co.uk/testimonials. If you need anything further on this, please get in touch.
Finally, I’m delighted to report we now have more than 300 registered website members of http://www.ucadvice.co.uk The process of invoicing and opening up new accounts is working well and client feedback has been very positive on accessibility, content and its general usefulness to staff. The UC calculator was recently updated and improved.
If you’re not already a member but would like to find out more about how to join please e-mail bill@ucadvice.co.uk or contact me on 07733 080 389.