13th November, 2022
In an earlier bulletin, I highlighted the worrying practices of DWP’s recently created “Risk Review Team” (RRT). The team, reported to have 1400 staff, is currently sifting through awards made during COVID, when normal validation measures were suspended, and DWP’s flawed policy of “trust & protect” was invoked. In simple terms, this meant, accepting claims at face value, and paying £ billions in unwarranted awards, which could, so easily, have been avoided if DWP had asked landlords and letting agents, by email or letter, to validate tenancy agreements, rental charges and changes in tenant circumstances. UC regulations anticipates this type of interaction but, in the case of private landlords, it rarely happens. Why, is bewildering as it would definitely improve effectiveness!
Unsurprisingly, DWP’s self-certification policy backfired, creating some £6 Billion in overpayments in 2020/21 and reportedly, even more the following year. Once created, these, in turn, are sent to DWP’s Debt Management section to immediately start the recovery process.
One of my London based clients, has referred 3 such cases in recent months, the latest of which concerns a young couple, with an 8-year-old child who had moved into one of their properties in July 2021. Prior to that, they had been receiving UC “housing costs” at their previous address, and so notified DWP of their change of address, fully expecting similar assistance. Unbeknown, to both landlord and tenants, their move & notification prompted a referral to the Risk Review team.
I’ll not bore you with the detail, but it initiated an “in-depth review” of their award, which took months of Q & A exchanges. Having completed the review, it decided to “revise” their previous award, creating an overpayment of £31K and managed to completely overlook the notified change of address for 13 months. Assisted by their landlord, the tenants tried to pursue the matter themselves but got nowhere. When asked to intervene, I first wrote to the Service Leader, for the area, explaining:
“When the original claim was made in March 2019, the DM decided it was meritorious, so awarded UC for the housing costs requirements. Having done so, its implicit the DM was content with the information provided which, no doubt, was validated, before the award was made. To “revise” the original decision, it’s incumbent on the DM to explain his/her rationale for retrospectively revising the award. Failure to do that, before a First-tier tribunal Judge, would automatically result in appeal success for my client.”
DWP’s own Guidance to Decision Maker’s, makes this clear.” “The person who wants to change the decision has the burden of proving, where necessary, that it should be changed.” The onus of proof rests with the Decision Maker (DM) if the Secretary of State initiates revision.” In this case, no material changes had occurred, except the involvement of the RRT.
As this was clearly an adjudication matter, my request for specific grounds for revision should have been dealt with by a DM, ideally, the one who made the decision. However, I received a letter from a “Complaints Manager” stating no further information could be provided. She then went on to say, please ask your client to contact our Debt Management, ASAP, to arrange payment of the £31K. You may not yet be aware, but DWP recently introduced a much more aggressive overpayment policy, which insists payment should be made, notwithstanding a Mandatory Reconsideration or appeal being lodged. It’s not yet clear whether this policy has Ministerial approval, but it flies in the face of previous policies, which suppressed follow-up.
I’ve advised my clients not to engage with the Debt Management team. Meanwhile, I’ve lodged my client’s appeal and asked that once registered, the case be referred to a District Judge, with a view to a Directions Notice being issued, demanding DWP’s submission, including its grounds for revision, thus enabling a more formal response from me. When that happens, hopefully a savvier DM will revise the decision in my client’s favour, avoiding the need for a tribunal.
I suspect you’ll experience similar issues, with overpayment demands, as DWP ramps up its rate of recovery letters/invoices. Meantime, contact me if you need any advice or assistance firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07733 080 389.
UC Advice & Advocacy ltd