7th June, 2015
Following news, last week from DWP, that the rollout was gaining pace (May’s figures, up on the month before by 22%) and much wider geographic coverage, evidence is emerging that the LB of Sutton “digital system” trial is showing signs DWP is actually making some progress, so much so, it’s use is to be extended to other postal districts of London.
You’ll recall, this is the “digital service” that DWP is pinning all its hopes on, in terms of the future expansion of the new scheme. If it works, as planned, the national rollout could quickly expand to allow all types of claims from June 2016. For now, the extension of the digital service area affects further sub-postcodes in Sutton, Croydon and Southwark from 10 June and 4 November 2015 respectively.
In each of these areas, claims for Universal Credit will be taken from singles, single parents, couples with children, and people with disabilities. Effectively, there will be little or none of the “gateway conditions” or barriers to entry outlined in my bulletin http://universalcreditadvice.com/housing-associations/2014/11/universal-credit-roll-out—why-only-a-handful-of-tenants-can-claim-universal-credit
So what will happen out-with the digital service areas?
In short, the “gateway conditions” should still apply for the foreseeable future. However, more and more of my RSL clients, in the “live” site areas, are reporting incidents of tenants being invited to claim Universal Credit, even though the barriers to entry should have prevented such applications.
In one case, tenants residing in “supported exempt accommodation” were wrongly invited to claim and it was only through the timely and dogged involvement of their in-house welfare rights officer that DWP eventually accepted, the tenants, in question, were prevented from applying and should remain on legacy benefits and Housing Benefit. Having spoken to the Welfare Rights Officer it’s quite clear, DWP staff who initially handled the claim had little or no understanding of the “gateway conditions” or how they should be applied. You might find that difficult to believe but I’m certain similar scenarios are being played out in other parts of the UK, with tenants being forced to claim Universal Credit wrongly.
Part of the problem is caused by the claimants themselves not appreciating they fall into a “gateway” or “exempt” classification, so they give misleading answers when completing their online applications. More worryingly, DWP staff, through their own lack of understanding, are not asking the right questions or just skipping past them when dealing with tenants either at the jobcentre or over the phone.
From your point of view, when a tenant who clearly doesn’t satisfy the gateway conditions, claims UC, in the way described above, and receives payment, there is little likelihood of back-tracking and reclaiming housing benefit again. Instead, the “lobster pot” notion applies with them claiming their “housing element” under Universal Credit. Tenants in “exempt supported accommodation” are a bit different, in so far, as they could find themselves claiming UC for their personal allowances, whilst claiming Housing Benefit for their housing costs.
So what can you do to protect your tenant and the organisation’s interests?
Alert your staff to the possibilities I’ve outlined above and be prepared to intervene, if and when, problems arise. Be proactive and hands-on, offering practical assistance to your tenants from day one, including helping them make their claims.
Hopefully, you’re staff will already be au fait with these issues, but, if not, I explain their critical importance and how to tackle them in our training programmes, which can be provided in-house for your organisation and/or in partnership with some of your neighbouring RSLs, where you share the costs.
UC & HB Advice & Advocacy