30th July, 2016
My recent bulletin, highlighting problems with the Non-secure APA process http://universalcreditadvice.com/ha/2016/07/dwp-introduce-variation-to-non-secure-e-mail-procedure—high-importance has prompted many of our members to seek further advice on how best to:
- Query an APAs receipt and progress; and
- Make a formal complaint about DWP mishandling of an application or failure to adequately explain its reasons for refusing the application.
DWP has actually published a set of protocols for pursuing individual queries. The process applies to all landlords who operate in “Live” as opposed to Full Service areas.
- It recommends, firstly, calling the Universal Credit service centre on 0345 600 0723 for all general enquiries. Before you call, make sure you have all the relevant information (NINOs, DOB, date of application etc.) expect a wait, be patient but persevere!
- Alternatively, e-mail UC.SERVICECENTREHOUSING@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK if you wish to escalate concerns over an existing Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) and/or “Third Party” rent arrears payments. If your case involves repossession action put “Potential Eviction” in the e-mail’s subject matter. Doing so should guarantee a response within 24 hours.
DWP maintains ALL other enquiries will be cleared within five days. If you have not received a response within that timescale contact the service centre directly on 0345 266 0041, Monday to Friday between 10am and 12pm, or 2pm and 4pm. DWP however have stressed the fact, this should only be used if all efforts to escalate your enquiry through the routes outlined above have failed.
In instances where APAs have been refused or unreasonably delayed, resulting in continuing payments to tenants and further misuse of funds, designed to be used to reduce or extinquish rent liability, you could pursue a complaint through DWP’s “Complaints Process” to secure compensation for your loss.
I encourage clients to pursue compensation or “special payments” as DWP refer to them, in cases where (APA) requests are:
- Refused unreasonably or without adequate reasons being given; or
- Payment of the “housing element” is NOT suspended, pending a decision, and continues to be paid to your tenant; or
- After the APA has been granted, in favour of the landlord, further payments are mistakenly paid to your tenant and subsequently misused.
Every day I see ample evidence of DWP’s poor handling of APA requests. The process should be relatively straightforward but is currently seriously flawed, due to a combination of lengthy processing delays, documents disappearing or being deleted, and elementary errors being made by staff. In particular, staff are still failing, despite promises to the contrary, to suspend payment of the “housing costs” element, pending a decision on the APA application, so continue to make payments to tenants, some of whom had already misused payments, accruing substantial rent arrears and representing a serious threat to tenancy sustainment, in the process.
The formal complaints process, regarding operational delivery, as set out in the DWP Complaints Procedure is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure The guidance includes consideration of UC complaints, and sets out the escalation process.
In summary, the process to follow is:
- In the first instance, any complaint should be raised with the office that has been dealing with the case.
- If escalation is required, the case can be referred to a Complaint Resolution Manager (CRM). The CRM will look into the complaint and try to resolve it, but if this is not possible they can refer unresolved complaints to the DWP Complaints, Redress and Stewardship This represents the final business review
- Should complainants remain dissatisfied with this final response, they can escalate their concerns to DWP’s independent complaints reviewer, the “Independent Case Examiner”.
- Lastly, if a) to c) doesn’t produce the desired result, the complaint can be referred via their MP to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, as detailed in the above link.
DWP previously confirmed this longstanding procedure would be highlighted in all DWP notifications but that’s never materialised. In my view, DWP needs to introduce a bespoke complaints process for Universal Credit as the new benefit has so many component parts (Jobcentre Plus, Service Centres, and Mail Opening Unit etc.). Meantime, stick to the process I’ve outlined.
DWP also publish information on how ex-gratia payments can be awarded as financial redress for Maladministration and can be viewed at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/309964/financial-redress-maladministration-apr-14.pdf At the moment, many requests for “special payments” are being refused on the basis the didpute centres on non-payment and the relationship between landlord and tenant. That’s simply nonsense. It’s DWP maladministration of its own scheme which is causing landlords losses and its this maladministration you should focus on when prosecuting your complaints. Don’t be put off – patience and perseverence is needed here, and, if necessary, pursue complaints through your MP and Parliamentary Commissioner. Doing so, on a regular basis, should produce the result we’re looking for i.e. an improved APA process preventing the misuse of public funds and landlord rental losses!
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