Good morning

Recently, I have highlighted tenant case examples, where specialist RSL staff have helped tenants, successfully overcome obstacles, created by a DWP administration struggling to cope with the complexities, it’s created, in a benefits system, originally described as being “simplified, integrated & transformational”; it’s certainly, not fulfilling the hype, 6 years and change, after its introduction.

Today’s example is a remarkable story. It involves a chronically disabled tenant, whose benefit was underpaid by £65.85 per week for years, despite having made numerous benefit applications to DWP. His predicament was unearthed, when, in February 2019, he became the tenant of Cairn Housing Association and was fortunate enough to be referred to one of its specialist Tenancy Sustainment staff, who, in an ealier career, had been a Money Advisor.

Mr X, was, in effect, moving to a new council district. This, ordinarily, would have necessitated a new HB claim and, more recently, a Universal Credit one, including provision for “housing costs”. Cairn’s Advisor met with Mr X to fully assess his situation. He discovered the tenant was 52, divorced, lived alone, and had a chronic back condition. He was moving home because he was struggling financially and his new tenancy was in proximity to family support.

During part of the examination, the Advisor asked DWP to confirm, by telephone, a breakdown of his benefit award. DWP said he was in receipt of ESA (IB), placed in the Support Group and had been receiving PIP for some years. The Advisor asked if Severe Disability Premium (SDP) had been included in his assessment and was told, it hadn’t. DWP was insistent Mr X was not debarred from claiming UC, due to the January 2019 “SDP Gateway” and maintained, he had no alternative, but apply for UC if he was seeking help with his rental charge.

In contrast, Cairn’s Advisor cautioned Mr X against applying for UC, on the basis, he clearly had an entitlement to SDP and the “Gateway” prevented him transitioning, at this stage. Cairn’s Advisor was focused on the fact, Mr X had, in all probability, been seriously underpaid for years. His only question was – how long had Mr X been wrongly assessed?

The Adviser told DWP that contrary to their advice, his client would not be claiming UC, at present, as he wanted to pursue the question of the missed SDP.  In response, DWP said, Mr X couldn’t apply for SDP, as his HB claim, at his old address, had already ended, so he was now, in effect, caught in the UC “lobster pot” with no other options.

Mr X , ignored DWP’s assessment, followed his advisor’s advice, and pursued the SDP issue instead. His advisor phoned DWP again, waited an hour to get through, and told its Service Centre staff, his client was seeking a retrospective review of his ESA claim, factoring in his potential SDP eligibility, as it appeared to have been completely overlooked. DWP reluctanly agreed, but insisted on the completion of one of its “Reconsideration” forms, which was unnecessary, as a request for review can be made orally or in writing (online journal; email; letter etc.). However,rather than argue the toss, Mr X agreed to DWP’s demand and submitted the pro forma immediately.

One month later, neither tenant nor Advisor had heard anything from DWP, but, out of the blue, the tenant found a payment of £13,093.25 in his bank account. In a follow-up call, made by the Advisor, DWP confirmed this payment, related to the missed SDP award, covering the associated period of his PIP award.

Mr X, not surprisingly, was delighted. But the canny Advisor then asked – “but my client was in receipt of DLA (Care) before PIP, so where’s the back-money offsetting the SDP loss sustained in that period? After some further resistance and fully 9 months of dithering, DWP finally paid a further £11,854.50.

So, overall Mr X received £24,947.75 in backdated awards; was now £65.85 per week better-off and his housing benefit was backdated to the date of his tenancy. Had he followed DWP’s initial advice of – “You must claim Universal Credit” – he would have been denied his large windfall, more generous monthly income and continued to struggle financially.

You could be excused for thinking this is a unique case. But believe me, that’s far from the truth! Our regular members’ bulletins and in-house training discussions suggest, mistakes, particulalrly relating to ESA & PIP recipients, are large scale. Far too many tenants are losing out, ironically, because they’re following advice from DWP staff, who are not being trained or supported properly by their directorate. Many of these claimants form part of the 130,000 new awards being made monthly, even though, in many cases, there was no necessity to claim UC!

Instead, many should have remained on their legacy benefit, until forced to claim UC, under the Managed Migration stage, when Transitional Protection is available to compensate the 40-60% of claimants who DWP expects will lose out in the move to UC. Worringly, at this rate of monthly uptake, DWP could well achieve its December 2023 rollout completion target, with little or no need for any Transitional Protection saving the Exchequer a fortune, but, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable of all tenants.

Housing Associations, UK wide, employ a range of specialist staff to engage & assist tenants, from the sign-up stage and during the life of their tenancy, in an attempt to avoid situations like this emerging. Welfare Rights, Money Advice, Financial Inclusion, Tenancy Sustainment, and other frontline staff, are all doing a sterling job. Without their knowledge and commitment, many more tenants, like Mr X, would unnecessarily lose out. This is especially true, during the next 3/4 years as Managed Migration is employed, causing 3 to 4 times more tenants transitioning to UC, possibly without the Transitional protection designed to cushion their migration!

If you require further information on this or any other welfare reform topic, please e-mail or phone 07733 080 389.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd