Good morning

More than 5 years after Universal Credit was first launched, SRS landlords are still desperately waiting for DWP to produce a satisfactory automated solution to the annual rent up-rating exercise, something they’ve been accustomed to via Councils and Housing Benefit. DWP published its latest guidance and related processes. Regrettably, both are another big disappointment to landlords as they unfailry place the onus heavily on tenants, creating greater risk of rental loss and increased verification workloads for landlords. Falling well short of expectations, the guidance is also seriously flawed and worryingly misleading, as I’ve alluded to in recent bulletins. However, at this late stage in the process, there’s little option left, but apply the advice to reduce the risks posed by the up-rating exercise.

The SRS and its representaive bodies should start pressing DWP, through the Strategic and Stakeholder groups that exist, for a more acceptable and legally compliant solution for future years. The Work & Pensions Committee recently cottoned on to the fact, significantly more claimants, than expected, are being encouraged to move to Universal Credit, even though there’s no requirement to do so. The move for some has proven costly, as they’ve found UC less generous, causing considerable benefits loss, with no transitional safety net to fall back on. If this trend in numbers continues, next years’ exercise could be much more demanding & challenging for tenants and landlords alike. Collectively, the sector needs to demand from DWP, a much greater degree of automation, less reliance on claimant journals and SRS  letter verification.

In its guidance, DWP still insists that notification of changes MUST come from the tenant, and be notified AFTER the change has taken effect. Neither of these assertions are correct.

Landlords who receive the “housing costs element” on behalf of their tenant(s) are legally obliged to notify DWP of any material change, like a rent increase/reduction, and failure to do so, could have ramifications further down the line, with DWP chasing you to repay overpayments, caused by your failure to disclose changes of this nature! One of my HA clients received a demand for £8000 just the other day for not reporting a change in the tenancy arrangements.

So, if an SRS landlord supplied DWP with a spreadsheet, incorporating all its known UC claimants, where APAs are in place, their full addresses and new rental liability, its Decision Makers could not refuse to act on this information, as its relevant to the level of award and warrants supersession. Doing so, could also act as an insurance policy to compensate for those tenants who fail or delay in reporting the change.

Changes relating to Universal Credit must be notified, not after the change, as DWP’s guidance suggests, but during the Benefit Assessment Period (BAP) as the regulations prescribe. Any delay in doing so, in the case of an advantageous change, could prejudice the chance of the tenant securing their rightful entitlement. In my previous bulletin, I pointed you to the relevant part of UC legislation, so I won’t repeat this. But, support  for my explanation, can be found in DWP’s own internal guidance. It produces an “Advice to Decision to Makers’ Guide” which is included, in full, in our website.

At Paragraph A4201 it states: “For UC it should be noted that the change should be notified in the assessment period in which the change occurs” – simply paraphrasing the regulations.

Paragraphs A4204/9 explain what needs to be done where a notification is made outwith the BAP. Effectively, the claimant needs to seek an extension and justify the delay in notification. Failure to do so will result in benefit loss.

It should be patently clear, to anyone with a basic knowledge of Universal Credit legislation, that DWP’s Guidance, in this instance, is completely at odds with both the legislation and its own guidance.

Claimants and landlords are entitled to expect better from DWP. It makes big claims about the efficacy of its Landlord Portal, supposedly servicing 90% of SRS tenancies when, in fact, less than 25% have transitioned to Full Service. In truth, the Portal is still only a fledgling system, lacking in functionality and data, creating, in turn, the constant need for  landlord or tenant workarounds. Hopefully, we’ll see real progress in the next year, including the elimination of this archaic process.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd