A letter to address UC flaws to private landlords

by Readers Question

13:33 PM, 8th February 2021
About 2 months ago

A letter to address UC flaws to private landlords

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A letter to address UC flaws to private landlords

Hi to private housing providers, I would like to share a recent letter (via email) I sent to the UC regional partnership manager (sandra.stewart@dwp.gov.uk & elaine.livingston@dwp.gov.uk) to address some of my concerns over the flaws & issues I am encountering with the UC office & staff implementation of the UC housing cost when offering private housing to claimant(s) in receipt of UC. You can also contact your own UC regional partnership manager in England & Wales by checking their details here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-partnerships/national-partnership-teams

Here is my letter:

‘Dear Sandra/Elaine,

We hope you are well.

We are a professional private landlord operating under Marble Properties Ltd in Scotland mainly around Glasgow area.

We currently have around *** tenants on UC full services and presumably more to come as more of our tenants are forced to switch over from their existing Hb.

We are writing to express our deep concerns over the level of poor services received from the UC office administration since it really got started around 2016 in Scotland in comparison to the Housing benefit office administration.

Our main concerns are:-

There are unacceptable levels of or more precisely ‘lack of adequate & appropriate’ communication between the UC office and private landlords even with the tenant’s giving explicit consent to share all information with their private landlords. Especially at the beginning of a new tenancy, during a tenancy and most importantly end of the tenancy. There are no fit & proper platform for a private landlord to appropriately communicate with the UC office in terms of no proper email address, no online platform/portal despite there is for housing associations, phone support is limited with Gdpr as a pretext again despite the tenant has given explicit consent to share all information.

Out of our existing 37 tenants on UC most of who have APA set up, we do not receive any form of payment remittances to confirm date of payments, amount of payments, and period payments are for which is not acceptable. Not by post or email. With the housing benefit office we received a single remittance for all our tenants on a 4 weekly interval. We are currently not receiving any form of remittance at all. We would request a single remittance outlinging all payments of each month listing the details like name, address, amount of payment & period payment are for. This is preferably by email for speed & efficiency reasons which is in line with the original ethos of UC cutting down on paperwork & efficiency.Can you clarify on this?

Illogical implementation of APA. During the course of a tenancy while APA is set up but a tenant has any change, without notice your staff can direct the housing cost back to the tenant without notice to the tenant nor ourselves which is not acceptable or logical. For example, one tenant may have been on housing benefit for over 10 years, has historical addiction & health issues and had their HB safeguarded paid direct to us, under the APA tiers the tenant has the right to continue the direct payment under APA. It is imminent the tenant will have some form of changes as we all do but that does not mean all of a sudden the tenant or ourselves are happy for the housing cost to be paid into the tenant’s bank account without notice to either side. With the HB office any direct payment to the landlord review would be carried out by contacting both the tenant and landlord in writing to query the prospect of directing payment back to the tenant which allow a more acceptable opportunity of typically 28 days for each side to answer back to the HB office for both sides to request either way. In most cases, both sides would request the continuation of the direct payment. For the UC office to just bypass everything and do not carry out fit and proper review process during any change and simply re-direct APA payments back to the tenant is not acceptable. This is bad practice and needs to change.

At the end of a tenancy, we have numerous occasions when a tenant has registered their new address in their online UC account for the last 2 months living in our property while giving us notice they are leaving and in some occasion do not even give us notice with the knowledge that the existing flawed set up of UC, their housing cost will be paid to either the tenant for the last 2 months or to their ‘future’ landlord for the next 2 months while they are still staying at our property. When we contact the UC helpline to address this, your staff are not interested to know. The tenant can only do this because the current UC set up is flawed and they know they can falsely claim the housing cost for themselves or to the future landlord. With the previous housing benefit office administration, they would listen and avoid this from happening if we notify them of this to prevent a tenant with a live tenancy still staying at our property from paying all their ongoing housing costs to the tenants or to their ‘future’ landlord. The HB office would verify with us then end the HB from the date it actually ended. For the UC office to allow this to happen is plain wrong and turning a blind eye from the UC office. We would ask for changes to improve this situation where a landlord can inform the UC office when this is happening and the UC housing cost is paid to where the tenant is factually residing with a live tenancy agreement not where the tenant register at. This can be achieved by again open fit and proper communication between the landlord and the UC office which does not exist at the moment.

Back to point 1 above, if there is at least an email that a private landlord can have open communication with the UC office then that should resolve most of the matters. However, the current and only email address we are asked to use, ucfull.service@dwp.gov.uk, we, in general, do not get a response. But when we do your staff often respond to say the email address is only for a restricted list of queries use from an unnamed responder. In other words, not replying to the actual communication. With a close and restricted communication administration, how is it possible to effectively resolve and administer a tenancy? We would ask your office to open up transparency and administer an open, fit and proper communication with private landlords when the tenant has already given explicit consent.

We have lost count of the amount of times your phone staff have abruptly hung up on the phone during a landlord query. The most recent one was a call regarding one of our tenant, Miss ***** at ******, flat 3.1, G***, G** *** on Tue 26.01.21 a call we made for a landlord query between 10.35am to 11.20am, we 0800 328 5644 and pressed option 2 UC queries, then option again 2 for other queries other from advance payment, a staff called David picked up then we explained to him a tenant said she has cancelled her UC housing costs on 25.01.21 after several disputes over us requesting access for several compliance work eg annual gas safety checks and renewing the expired Carbon Monoxide alarm etc which the tenant deems as harassment, he said it is not that easy for the tenant to cancel housing cost through APA. We requested a landlord query for the caseworker to call us back to clarify the situation. Without looking into who the tenant was, he then said he is in the general enquiry line and I can not request a landlord query & can not request a call back from the caseworker and need to redial the same number and press option 1 for an appointment for a landlord query. From previous calls, we knew that is not true and that we can ask for landlord query call back so we asked him again to clarify, but before we can he said abruptly ‘OPTION 1!’ with a raised tone of voice then hung up the phone at 10.43am. Just in case we were wrong we redialled straight away and pressed option 1 as he asked us then 1 again got through to Isabel who said need to press option 1 then option 2 call ended 10.50am.Again we redialled (10.53am-11.00am) Option 1, then option 2, Lewis picked up this time and said this is the appointment line for work coaches for tenants to book with job centre and it is the ‘general enquiries’ line I’ve to call back to request a landlord query for a call back from the caseworker putting us in a full circle as we anticipated. We redialled (11.05am-11.17am) again and pressed option 2 UC queries line, then option 2 other query from advance payment, got through to general enquiries line again spoke to male/Naill, explained everything and asked for the caseworker call back through landlord query, Naill said he’s checked and doesn’t need a call back as the tenant has not cancelled rent but will take a note. Said don’t know why his colleague David asked us to press option 1 to go to an appointment. We are sure you can listen to the calls and see for yourself. This is the kind of treatment we get often. It is not only wrong information your staff insist on giving to landlord it is also the rude hanging up of conversation while speech is still in progress. This is not an isolated occasion, this is a regular thing with the UC phone staff who just simply raise a tone of voice followed by hanging up on a call. This kind of lawless administration must change as those staff are representing the 21st century UK government.

We find it totally unacceptable as an example which can apply to any UC claim that if a tenant assessment period is from the 1st to the last day of each month and gets paid on the 7th of each month when a tenant moves out on the 30th of that month 1 day before the end of that month with 31 days but factually stayed at the rented property for 30 days of that assessment period that the UC office will not pay anything for those 30 days for the housing cost to the landlord. Instead, the full housing cost for those 30 days at our property is paid either to the tenant direct or to the next landlord. This does not in any way mimics the real working environment nor prepares any claimant for work. In reality, no one in any line of work will be expected to work for 30 days and when employment ends on the 31st day of that month the former employee gets £0 pay for those 30 days of work just because the employee did not work for the 31st day of that month. Again the implementation of this is seriously wrong, unethical and flawed. We would ask you to make changes to firstly open up fit and proper communication to establish the factual date of check out or the date the tenant have left/abandoned a property followed by a pro-rata final payment of the UC housing cost which is what the hb office does and is clearly fit and property.

The current UC administration practices need to improve on multiple levels, open up to fit and proper communication & administration practices. The issues above are not policy issues. It is the flawed practices & flawed implementation by collective staff and we urge you to listen to the concerns and make changes for the better.

We would appreciate the response by email.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Stay Safe, Mr Alan W.

Comments

Bill irvine

18:02 PM, 8th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Alan Wong at 08/02/2021 - 15:51
Hi Alan

Mick emailed me with a link to your article on Property118. It's good to see you taking this step as there's not enough of this happening.

As you suggest to Mick, there's nothing unique about your various complaints and suggestions to DWP, landlords throughout the UK, have been making similar complaints for years.

I secured agreement with DWP's Directorate as far back as 2015 that it would suspend payment of the HCE where an APA was received claiming, the "housing costs" had been misused by the tenant.

When I started submitting complaints to ICE, pointing to this commitment, and DWP's refusal to implement it, the response from its Directorate was, this was not possible, despite the fact, both the UC regulations and DWP's own internal guidance, supported the landlords' position.

Some of you may remember my open letter to Neil Couling, Director General and my follow-up response, when he tried to undermine the credibility of my claims https://www.property118.com/open-letter-dwp-neil-couling-regarding-universal-credit/comment-page-2/

Not long after this, he was approached by his Head of Complaints about the 20+ complaints I had made to ICE. Mr X had taken the rather unusual step of suggesting to the Independent Case Examiner that my complaints should be considered as a form of "class action" as they were all were seeking recompense due to DWP maladministration. He also confirmed to Mr Couling, that he agreed with my claims that "Explicit Consent" had no role to play in APA processing and was in fact, an absurd position to adopt, when DWP had ample evidence to suggest, these delinquent tenants had already repeatedly misused, funds designed to reduce or extingush nothing other than their rent liability. On a positive note, Mr Couling was forced in December 2017 to withdraw the need for "explicit consent" and notified staff accordingly. Three years and change later, however, DWP staff are still wrongly refusing APAs on this basis!

Just as absurd is DWP's insistence, that any "change in circumstances" merits cancelling the APA. The APA was presumably secured on the basis the landlord satisfied DWP, at the point the request was made, that Tier 1 factors applied. Unless the change of circumstsnces alters that position (e.g. tenant has cleared rent arrears), the APA should remain in place.

In HB/LHA, where the tenant requests the cancellation of direct payments, the Council, as you suggest, firstly suspend payment, contacts both parties, and then makes a decision, fully aware of all the facts. In UC, all to often APA arrangements are cancelled, without any due process or consideration of the facts, resulting in delinquent tenants accessing and misusing even more public funds. None of these tenants is ever sanctioned or prosecuted, even where its clear theyve used fraudulent action, including suggesting they've changed landlord and fraudulently produce a concocted AST with a family members' bank details to secure the funds.

In its response to you, DWP's management will waffle, just as Mr Couling did away back in 2017. They'll refer to the new online system and how it vastly improves the old UC 47's but what they won't do is acknowledge is:

a) The application is not formally acknowledged; and
b) Pending the decision on the merits of your application, there is no dedicated email or effective telephone number you can use to question its progress; and
c) Even where HCE has been misused, it will not be suspended in most cases; and
d) Those landlords that phone 0800 328 5644 wait 30-40 minutes to get through only to be thwarted by inexperienced staff, refusing to answer, quoting DPA and GDPR as reasons for not wishing to engage; and
e) When frustrated landlords don't hear anything they invariably add to DWP's admin mountain by making another or mutiple online requests; and
f) When the outcome is favourable rarely does DWP provide the promised confirmation of the award and start date; and
f) When refused, DWP provides a rather vague letter, referring to 3 possible reasons why the APA was refused. Last week I pursued 2 such responses, only to find the landlords'application should have been allowed. Why was it refused - the Decision Maker reckoned he needed "explicit consent" before he could transfer HCE to landlord. Beggars belief!

Mick, in earlier posts, has refered to the frustrations landlords experience when trying to secure recompense for the losses they experience, only to find the process takes, on average 30-36 months, usually results in maladministration being accepted, but recompense being denied. This is a scandalous situation both in terms of the timescales and outcomes. It's also ridiculous when you consider, landlords are not even mentioned in the "Complaints Process" nor were they considered when DWP created an online complaints form, which asks for Nat Ins Nos and points complainants to how using their "journal" they can access info. None of this pertains to the position of landlords.

You'll not be surprised to hear, Social Landlords (councils & housing associations), who represent the vast majority of my clients, are treated differently. They have access to a landlord portal which notifies them as soon as a tenant makes a claim for UC. It also allows the SL to apply straight away to have the HCE redirected. Sharing of Information regualtions also allows DWP staff to share information about tenants more freely.

In my view, there is no justification for treating PRS landlords/agents any differently. This position may change in the future, but, in the meantime PRS landlords and the organisations that support them should be pressing the Government & DWP, for at least parity.

Chris @ Possession Friend

18:32 PM, 8th February 2021
About 2 months ago

There have been no shortage of documentaries and news reports about the inefficiencies and misery that those DWP 'errors' cause. ( viz-a-viz the actual amount of Benefit paid )
Yet this government seem to have a 'Teflon coat' - although the current weak state of the opposition party doesn't lend itself to being a credible critic of government.

I think it would take an organisation to obtain an apt selection of claimants ( Tenants and Landlords ) who've been negatively impacted and bring a legal case against the government. If Shelter and Citizens Advice weren't so beholden to the government via grant income, perhaps they'd consider it. ?

They would achieve far more than by 'bashing landlords in court cases over No DSS '
More tenants would be in rented accommodation let to them by landlords.

Bill irvine

18:49 PM, 8th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Jo Westlake at 08/02/2021 - 16:52Hi Jo
I'd hold onto the funds until you hear from DWP.
In 2019/20 DWP reported £1.75 Billion in overpayments, representig 10% of UC expenditure. The National Audit Office rightly slammed DWP for its scandalous performance.
At some point, DWP will address the question of whether the "housing costs element" were due to you or not. From what you've said, there's every likelihood of an overpayment and almost certainly, DWP will look to you as culpable. Unlike HB/LHA overpayments caused by "official error" are recoverable, even where the tenant & landlord play no part in its creation. Recovery is however "discretionary" although DWP has still to grasp this as it invariably refers debts to its "Debt Management" team and it duly sends out invoices for payment demands.
One of my Housing Association clients contacted me, around 3 years ago, after receiving an invoice for £1800. The document had little by way of information and was sent from an office in Belfast.
When I contacted the office to ask what it referred to I was initially confronted by demands for my national insurance number (NINO). Despite explaining I was acting as representative and my NINO was irrelevant, they refused to speak to me. On my 2nd call, I persuaded the member of staff to speak to me. But when I asked to see DWP's "Decision" letter, it was clear he had no knowledge of why this was not only important but was a legal requirement. After checking with colleagues he admitted no letter had been sent and this would be rectified. Three years later, we've heard nothing!
Meantime, my clients and I, challenge any attempts by DWP to recover overpayments, as they are, yet again, trying to take shortcuts by demanding all overpayments arising from accounts where APAs are in place, should be recovered from the landlord payee. As most experienced landlords will know, the law requires a more thorough examination of the facts to determine the cause of the overpayment as that determines the question of culpability.

Chris @ Possession Friend

18:55 PM, 8th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Suggestion - ?
How about a - 'Universal Credit Watch group' ? seeking a Top-level contact within DWP to take our concerns, even a link with the Sec of State for DWP, if our group had enough combined 'clout'
Maybe a cohort of Bill, Mick, Caridon, Alan Wong and myself. ( we've all got examples -experience )
Perhaps a strategy might be to assemble a dosier of evidence and present it to Tenant support groups to see if they'd actually join in campaigning the Govt.
If they didn't, it may make for an even better media story.

CARIDON LANDLORD SOLUTIONS

19:28 PM, 8th February 2021
About 2 months ago

When the online APA system launched I really thought that it would be a game changer and that that issues with APAs would be eliminated. However there are so many flaws in the complex UC system that to date have not been addressed. It is good to see that landlords are contacting local partnership managers and highlighting concerns as the fact of the matter is the system is not working as it should. There are still several delays in the APA being set up, poor communication between DWP staff and landlords, APAs been paid in error to tenant who are in arrears and no compensation offered to the landlord. The list goes on.

Mick Roberts

8:46 AM, 11th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris @ Possession Friend at 08/02/2021 - 18:55
Great Idea Chris,

DWP imbeciles wun't listen though would they. U start it ha ha & ask me for info.
I'm trying to slow down & sell the ruddy lot if the tenants could ever move.

Heather G.

11:58 AM, 12th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Alan Wong at 08/02/2021 - 15:45
Can you also send it to Jenrick and MHCLG?

Gary Silver

14:30 PM, 12th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Hi people,

I just happened to look in at this post and and scanned through the replies.

What an absolute shower of turds UC has become with regards to private landlords for all the reasons set out in the original message.

We really thought we were getting somewhere with the new APA online system and then they never seem to reach the right person. We are left picking up the pieces and are then told that 'its illegal to state NO DSS".

I actually believe UC is a good thing combining all benefits into one and given the recent deluge in the last 12 months, the govt have coped remarkably well.

However its the private landlords who are treated like 3rd class citizens for the very many reasons stated above.

Is anyone in the government aware that this is not good enough ?

If the default was to pay the landlord the 'housing element' of UC directly then we wouldn't be in this mess. To have to jump through many hoops and be clutching in the dark with a lack of information is truly astounding.

Sorry for the rant but suffice it to say you are not alone in the turd storm of inefficiency.

DSR

15:12 PM, 12th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Gary Silver at 12/02/2021 - 14:30
I too Gary are amazed why 'UC paid direct to all LL's' isn't just the norm. Add in a pandemic to the mix and it should be a default status full stop. Those tenants that do pay the LL themselves, will completely understand why the LL wants as much confidence as possible, and those tenants that done - well we all know why that could be!

I am now fearful of the next level...when a direct payment HAS been agreed, it is not done so for then onwards. It IS still subject to a review - 3,6 or 12 months later. My concern is that if the tenant should then ask for direct payments at any point, is it the default position that the DWP then pay them direct on demand? Of course as LL's we wont ever know if the tenant has even asked for this, but lo and behold we will on rent payment day as suddenly no rent.
Can the DWP just agree to a direct payment to the tenant for the rent element at the drop of the hat like this?

I had a case of it myself where a direct payment was set up, agreed by UC (also requested by the LA itself!), as the request fulfilled all the Tier 1 and some Tier 2 provisions that would ensure it should never be paid to the tenant direct. All good till three months down the line. I get zero rent, contact the DWP to ask out why (explicit consent also given pre contract with tenant and DWP aware), they tell me there is no claim! It transpired the tenant left my flat, moved to Scotland to be with 'family' and changed his address to claim at another address.

Anyone know if the actual DWP guidelines that they are supposed to follow themselves BEFORE they allow a tenant to simply ask to be paid directly?

Gary Silver

15:16 PM, 12th February 2021
About 2 months ago

Good point RL

What should happen is if the claim stops and direct rent payments are in place and auto email should be sent to the landlord.

Madness

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