Good morning

Last week’s bulletin created a bit of a stir and prompted landlord clients to ask:

  1. Why can’t a tenant report a change, like the annual rent charge, either in advance of the change or, at least, within the Benefits Assessment Period (BAP), in which the change occurs; and
  2. If the tenant fails to report the change, can the information, provided by the landlord, within one month of the change, be used to ensure the award aligns with the month of the change.

The answer to both questions is – yes, DWP should be able to accept advance notice of an anticipated “change in circumstances” and backdate the revised award, to coincide with the landlord’s notification, but chooses not to. Why, is that?

DWP’s aim is to minimise the need for staff intervention, and so has set up its IT system to only accept information, from the tenant, after the event, in anticipation its system will recalculate and supersede the award automatically. It’s not unusual for me to hear from Housing Officers, Financial Inclusion, and Welfare Rights staff, encountering difficulties trying to assist clients report a change, within the claimant’s BAP, only to discover the system throws up an “error message” because the date of change is prospective – in the future!

Notifying changes in circumstances is an obligation on both tenants and landlords. The rules are specified in the UC (Decisions & Appeals) Regulations  – Regulation 23 provides for decisions to be “superseded” when a change – Regulation 23 (1) (b) – “It is expected a relevant change of circumstances will occur”. So, there is no need to wait until after the event, as DWP suggest.

Regulations 35 (1) & (4) & 36 (9) provide that the “relevant notification period” means – “in the case of Universal Credit, the assessment period in which the change of circumstances occur” and any change takes effect from the first day of the assessment period.

Regulation 36 (1) provides, the period of notification can be extended by up to 13 months, where the tenant asks for an extension and can provide reasons for not being able to do so within the BAP. Obviously, it’s best to report the change, before or during the BAP, but where that can’t be done, ensure the change is reported as soon as possible. If DWP refuse, lodge a Mandatory Reconsideration and, where necessary, appeal as the chance of success is high.

Applying the “whole month approach” which I have explained in earlier bulletins, means, the tenant’s circumstances on the last day of the BAP, are assumed to have applied from the first day. For example, Mike’s BAP runs from the 15th – 14th monthly. He decides to give up his tenancy and advises his landlord, in writing, on 8th July suggesting a vacation date of 11thAugust. He reports the change to DWP on 16th July (i.e. within the BAP 15th July – 14th August). DWP could then cancel the award of “housing costs” for the whole period, so he receives no assistance with his housing costs for that period. Whereas, if he delayed his vacation date to 15th August, (4 days later), he would receive payment for the whole of 15th July – 14th August BAP.

Landlords who receive payment of the “housing costs” direct, must report a change they are aware of, whether it is a positive or negative change (e.g. reduction in rent) and can do so by phone, letter, or email, ideally to the local Practice Manager.  A landlord, receiving payment direct, who fails to report a drop in rent charge, or other material change, could be responsible for any overpayment that subsequently occurred. Unlike Housing Benefit, all overpayments are recoverable under UC, where the default position is to recover from the person who received payment. However, landlords can still secure relief from repayment where they have notified the change, and the tenant fails to or misrepresents the situation to DWP.

Several of the overpayment appeals I deal with, on behalf of my landlord clients, involve sums of between £5k – £10K with one recently, £234K. If you experience any such demands, and wish to challenge recovery, act immediately, as DWP refers the debt, after one month to its “Debt Management Team”, who commence recovery action.

If you wish to discuss this or any other Hb or UC related issue, email or phone my mobile 07733 080 389.


Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd

Phone 01698 424301 or 07733 080 389