My 10th February bulletin mentioned DWP was still deliberating on how best to handle the annual up-rating of rents exercise, in the Social Rented Sector, but hoped to confirm its position by 21st February. Regrettably, its position remains unsettled but it has made the following statement:

“At the moment we have nothing firm on the annual rent increase process. The portal team are exploring how we may be able to receive rent change information from landlords via the landlord portal, and are now beginning to involve landlords in our designs and ideas to work up the best possible solution. Communications on this will come out through the usual channels including the housing networks”.

Whilst this update marks some progress, on its earlier position, of placing the onus on the tenant, and would be the ideal and most sensible solution, we’re getting rather close to the wire, in terms of the critical period for reporting the change. So, for those SRS organisations worried about this, I would recommend, you simply continue to encourage your tenants, to report the change, as they’re obliged to, whether it’s advantageous or disadvantageous:

a) Through their online journal, ideally during the course of the Benefit Assessment Period (BAP) in which the change occurs; or

b) As soon as possible, after the BAP ends, and be able to explain their reasons for not being able to comply within the BAP.

Using the same example, as before – Jenna is a single parent claiming Universal Credit “Full Service”. Her Benefit Assessment Period (BAP) runs from the 15th to the 14th. Her landlord increases her rent by 2.5% from 1st April 2019. In Jenna’s case, she could report her change, anytime between the 15th of March to 14th April. If she does, the new charge will take effect from the 1st day of her BAP i.e. 15th March,

Alternatively, if Jenna reports the change on 20th April, after the BAP ends, she needs to ask the Decision Maker via her journal, preferably, to accept her excuse for the delay and apply discretion to permit payment from 15th March. DWP, in the past, promised to look favourably, on situations, where notifications are secured within 1 month of the change date. Given the absence of any clear directions from DWP on this important topic, I would expect it to honour earlier commitments.

If Jenna or any other tenant, experiences a drop in rent, they similarly must notify this during the BAP. In this case, a failure to do so timeously could create an overpayment, which would be recoverable from the tenant and possibly, the landlord, if payment is being redirected, as the obligation to report the change equally applies to the landlord.

One of the issues, DWP needs to clarify, is what evidence, if any, DWP will require to validate the new charge and how this should be communicated. Obviously, if the portal is used to update the new charge this will make things simpler and avoid over and under-payments. DWP can, of course, seek information to validate the tenant’s claim from any landlord and could be provided by the submission of a letter, form or spreadsheet, as happened under “Live” service.

As soon as I receive anything further, I will notify you. In the meantime, I hope this note assists you in you preparations.

For Private Sector landlords, your tenants remain responsible for notifying DWP of any relevant change in circumstances. Where payment of the “housing cost element” is redirected to you, on behalf of your tenant, you also have an obligation to report any relevant change, just as you are under Housing Benefit or Local Housing Allowance. If, for example, having notified your tenant(s) that you’ve decided to increase the rents, in line with latest LHA rates (see earlier bulletin) this must be reported. 

Bill Irvine

27th February 2019