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Universal Credit – The key risks to direct payments, rent collection, arrears control & debt recovery explained!

Universal Credit is completely different to the current Housing Benefit scheme; RSL staff are only now realising just how different, especially in their dealings with DWP. Whilst in some cases, the new scheme is potentially more generous; for the most part, it’s, very much more labour intensive, technically more complicated, financially punitive and poses a much greater threat to tenancy sustainment, than housing benefit ever has.

Delivered centrally; reliant on claims being submitted online and at Jobcentres; administered by poorly trained and unsupported staff, it’s already causing major problems for those tenants and RSLs participating in the “live” site areas. Worrying numbers of tenants are accruing rent arrears, despite promises to the contrary. DWP have, at its disposal, Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) and Third Party Deductions (TPDs) but the recently created offices in Wolverhampton and Bolton are struggling to cope and currently “not fit for purpose” in terms of a full scale national rollout. Social & Private landlords are quickly discovering the need for significantly more proactive “specialist” tenancy support and robust rent arrears management.

So what’s causing the problems?

A host of anomalies in the new scheme, damaging to rent collection, are being uncovered every week that passes. Also, the DWP administration, operating at arms-length, is impeding and frustrating RSL attempts at improving communication and liaison links. Concerns are being raised about DWP staff’s lack of appreciation for the complexity and importance of the “housing costs” element. There’s also a lack of empathy being shown to tenants and landlord staff alike, when problems are encountered. Tenant mandates, designed to permit landlord advocacy on behalf of tenants, are not being accepted, completely undermining staffs’ attempts to assist those tenants experiencing problems. DWP’s over-reliance on Data Protection and “claimant confidentiality” is preventing landlords’ access to what’s happening with new claims, APAs and Third Party requests. Recent Data Sharing regulations should help to improve relations but are unlikely to resolve many of the issues being experienced.

The under-noted course has been specifically tailored for Social Landlord staff. It’s been designed to address the concerns and problems mentioned above; the likely effect this will have on your tenants, and your organisation’s collection arrangements, rental income and arrears management.

Programme: (9.30am - 4pm) includes:

  • When, where and how it will be introduced;
  • Who will be able to claim it, now & in the future;
  • How will it be claimed; the importance of the web based system, the “claimant commitment” and how you can support tenants during the process;
  • Data sharing, information about live claims, rent increase uprating processes etc.
  • How claims will be assessed, with various examples of the calculation methodology, including the “housing element”; non-dependent charges; under-occupation deductions; benefits cap.
  • How & when will it be paid, including the use of bank, Post Office and Credit Union accounts; and variations to the default positions?
  • Backdating of claims; changes in circumstances; the “whole month rule”; penalties for late reporting; overpayments, recovery and late notification “fines”.
  • Threat to “housing element” when couples split up; two households combine; tenant’s move home without giving notice; temporary absences, hospital, prison etc.
  • Alternative Payment Arrangements – How to apply for these and “third party deductions”?
  • Conditionality and sanctions – how these might affect the tenant’s willingness to cooperate; may prejudice your ability to APAs & TPDs; and might result in the “housing element” being misused.
  • DWP maladministration – how to challenge DWP mistakes/errors; how to pursue “compensation” using the “complaints process” and referrals to the Parliamentary Commissioner.
  • Appeals – what can and can’t the tenant/you appeal; what is a mandatory reconsideration; how & when do First-tier tribunals play a part.

Throughout the day we will encourage delegate participation. We use practical exercises and case studies, drawn from the “live” sites, to highlight the main features of Universal Credit. Ultimately, the tutor will aim to ensure delegates are well informed on how best to maximise tenant entitlement; minimise landlord problems and reduce the potential for rental income loss.

Who should attend?

Any member of staff involved in housing management, finance, providing advice & support to tenants and those responsible for collecting arrears and complying with Pre-action protocols.


Bill Irvine was Head of Benefits, Revenues & Advice Services at one of the UK’s largest councils; acted as local government advisor to the Housing Benefit Standing Committee, Westminster; acted as a welfare rights advocate; tutored on HB/Rent Arrears issues, on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing. He currently operates UC & HB Advice & Advocacy acting as representative of tenants, Private Landlords and Housing Associations in their respective HB/LHA negotiations with councils and, rather uniquely, represents them in disputes before First and Upper-tier tribunals. He also writes regular articles on UC/HB/LHA related topics and responds to Landlord’s queries and complaints via various web-based forums, including his own website. Bill was one of the principal witnesses at the DWP Select Committee, Westminster hearings, relating to Local Housing Allowance in January 2010, where some of his recommendations were adopted as “Good practice” in subsequently produced DWP Guidance.

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