An open letter to DWP Neil Couling regarding Universal Credit

An open letter to DWP Neil Couling regarding Universal Credit

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An open letter to DWP Neil Couling regarding Universal Credit

Many landlords are experiencing issues with Universal Credit. The communication is poor, landlords are putting in APAs, but unable to communicate with DWP to find out the process of the APA.

As a result many landlords have tenants with high rent arrears – the system needs changing as landlords seem to be punished for providing a much needed service to the social sector.

Bill Irvine has penned a very accurate letter to Neil Couling DWP, please read the interesting letter and feel free to tweet and forward to your peers.

Open letter to:

Mr Neil Couling
Director General
Universal Credit Implementation

Dear Mr Couling

Landlords, throughout Great Britain, are experiencing unsustainable rental loss as a direct result of Universal Credit, particularly, in relation to the way in which the “housing element” is being administered. Despite phoning, e-mailing and complaining to Jobcentre Plus and regional Complaints & Resolution teams, our collective efforts have proved fruitless, frustrating and disheartening. The situation is getting worse, especially in areas, like e.g. London, Great Yarmouth, Inverness and East Lothian, where “Full Service” Universal Credit is now operating and arrears are running at 90%. Landlords understandably fear that as Full Service expands throughout GB so will these worrying problems.

Nearly every single tenant owes rent, either through the delay in first payment, which can take 6-12 weeks to process. In some cases, tenants are simply misspending the housing element, rather than using the funds to reduce or extinguish their rental liabilities. When that occurs, landlords make application for redirection of the funds. Many of those applications are mislaid, take months to process or are simply ignored. In the most alarming cases, DWP has simply ignored the red flags and pleas, raised by landlords and continued to make payments to delinquent tenants in the full knowledge £000’s of public funds was being used inappropriately.

Not surprisingly, the RLA and NLA are both reporting an increasing number of private sector landlords and letting agents refusing to accommodate Universal Credit reliant tenants. Lenders are also stipulating, that funds will not be provided where tenancies are intended for benefit tenants.

Was the Alternative Payment Arrangement scheme (APAs) not designed to safeguard landlords from these very problems; avoid the problem of vulnerable tenants mismanaging their finances; and prevent delinquent tenants from misusing public funds, putting at jeopardy their tenancy and exposing them to the vagaries of homelessness?

As Director General, you must be acutely aware and surely worried by what’s happening?

Evidence of repeated misuse of public funds is building as “Full Service” roll out starts to bite. Landlords like Caridon Property Solutions have been copying you into exchanges with your staff, over many months, and, in the past week, have drawn your attention to two cases involving nearly £12, 000 in rent arrears, caused by your staff failing to respond appropriately to multiple APA requests by landlords and their agents.

DWP’s excuses to date have Included: “We can’t speak to Landlords or agents without the consent of the tenant.” ……………A “Special Payment” (as compensation for rental loss) is not merited in such cases as the tenant is the primary cause of the problem”…………..“This is essentially a civil dispute between tenant & landlord”

Frankly, none of these statements reflect the true cause of the problem. It’s unquestionably, DWP maladministration of its own scheme, accompanied by complete ambivalence to the predicament of landlords’ reliance on these funds for their livelihood and ability to pay lenders. Had your staff acted in accordance with the scheme you created, most of these substantial losses could have been avoided.

The APA scheme was designed specifically for landlords. It requires our members to apply using a Non-secure UC 47 form which can either be sent by e-mail or FREEPOST. This version of the form was designed to “start a dialogue with landlords and agents”. It’s supposed to prompt a call from your staff, during which, the landlords’ bank details and the merits of the application can be discussed. You also provide a telephone number for landlords to call when they’re seeking an update on the progress of their application. Given the above, its’ absurd to suggest you can’t speak to landlords, without the tenant’s consent.

Landlords, having complied with the scheme’s requirements, in all respects, are surely entitled to be able to ask for progress updates; reasons for refusal; reasons for later redirection back to tenants, without discussion. Your colleague Mike Baker, Operations Director, in August 2015 acknowledged the landlords’ rights in this respect and confirmed to me, in writing, that on receipt of an APA request the “housing element” would be immediately suspended, pending a decision on the question of to whom the payment should be made. His commitment has not been honoured.

Members have repeatedly raised with your staff, concerns over the lack of independence, impartiality and objectivity during the internal stages of your “Complaints Process”. In your responses to members, you claim that cases are considered on their individual merits. However, if you examine the common thread of each response, it’s really nothing other than a standard reply, crafted by someone in your Policy Unit. It was your Policy Unit who prescribed “Special Payments” were NOT to be used in landlord APA applications for compensation. Interference of this type completely undermines the notion of cases being considered on their individual merits and suggests more of a sham complaints process.

The third stage of the Complaints Process (Independent Case Examiner) is truly the first time the complaint is looked at independently. Past reports from ICE suggest 50% of complaints are fully supported with a further 25% partially supported. At first, this looked a promising way to prosecute a complaint but we’ve since found it takes 15 months, on average, from referral to conclusion stage. A classic case of justice delayed, justice denied!

As an ex COSLA advisor to the Housing Benefit Standing Committee, Westminster I’ve spent 20 years dealing with DWP hierarchy, including the Policy Unit team in the Adelphi, London. My colleagues and I had a very fruitful relationship with this team who demonstrated a high level of knowledge and commitment to tackling and resolving problems. I’ve yet to see anything like that from you and your support team with maybe 1 or 2 exceptions.

Five years ago, I wrote an article “Hitting the DWP brick wall” which was published by the SFHA and private sector magazines, predicting the biggest problem with Universal Credit would be your department’s remote and ambivalent administration of the scheme. If anything, I underestimated just how problematic it would be.

In my opinion, something drastic is needed to overhaul the current APA and associated Complaints Processes as both are currently unfit for purpose. Apart from traveling the country, speaking to staff in the new Full Service areas, what are you doing to address the legitimate concerns of landlords?

Bill Irvine

Update from Editor

Please Click Here to download letter of response from Neil Couling

 

Contact Sherrelle for offline Universal Credit advice

Sherrelle is an independent consultant and is recommended by Property118 for landlords who require professional advice and assistance in regards to dealing with Universal credit related matters

Comments

Luk Udav

5 months ago

Excellent letter. But DWP will do absolutely nothing, as always.

UC is a total disgrace. The delays are abysmal, for landlords and for qualified recipients. Both are driven to distraction, bankruptcy or into the arms of back street lenders. But of course they are all "wicked landlords" or "skivers".

David Price

5 months ago

The time taken to administer a tenant on Universal Credit is such that I will not house anyone in receipt of UC. In itself UC is not a bad concept, the government must realise that many tenants do not pay their rent and no amount of "treating them as if they were employed" will enable them to manage their finances.
There will be a lot of homeless; I suggest that local authorities start to order more park benches for they will be sorely needed.

Clint

5 months ago

An excellent letter. I have several tenants on Universal Credit, many of which are well in arrears. With one tenant who has unfortunately had to be evicted, I sent several APAs by both secure emails, non secure emails, by post and made continuous calls to Universal Credit without a single reply although, I had received read receipts of emails I had sent.

Further to the above, I had contacted my MP who wrote to the Director General where he received a letter acknowledging the fact that the rental benefit should be paid to the Landlord if the tenant was more than two months in arrears and that I should make an application. I did make a further application and as usual there was no response so due to time constraints gave up at that point. This was about six months ago.

I have filled in other APAs and have never received a single reply. With regards to those that could be considered as almost satisfactory, I have had to accept rents being up to three weeks late with respect to the due dates in the tenancy agreements.

I think the only possible way to go forward is to stop taking tenants on UV until DWP sort out the problem which looks like will take several years if it survives.

Paul Cunningham

5 months ago

I am the Chair of the Eastern Landlords Association and also the Chair of the Gt Yarmouth ELA branch. Universal Credit was introduced in to GY in April last year. Since then homelessness has risen to an all time high, 40% increase in the use of food banks and the town now has a soup kitchen for the first time.
At recent branch meeting of some 60 members, all stated they would no longer accommodate UC claimants simply because of DWP incompetence. Gt Yarmouth council arrears have increased to £186k since UC.
The local MP Brandon Lewis refuses to engage with the ELA over this and despite senior DWP staff assurances the issues have gotten worse since its introduction.
Until the homeless numbers reach a level that actually embarrasses DWP/ government this problem will only increase.
The ELA has managed to get a seat at the DWP forum in London but still no improvements in this crisis. It's undoubtedly the biggest threat to landlords and to tenants.

James Noble

5 months ago

Couldn't agree more. Impossible to communicate - e-mails ignored, phone calls refused to be taken. Tenant now over two months in arrears, and counting. Madness.

Gary Dully

5 months ago

And will you still vote Tory?

# Vote UKIP

Mick Roberts

5 months ago

Very good words.

The amount of time I've told DWP staff, it's in the tenant's best interest to tell u to not talk to me, if u going to keep paying him, so he can keep spending it-Are u thick?

I had one member of HB staff do this about 7 years ago. He'd ring me & say 'Well the tenant's said he's paid u'. I'd say 'Well he hasn't'. HB man would say 'He says he has'. I'd say he's gonna' say that so u keep paying him'. And this would go on. I'd eventually say 'Well pay him then, if u think he's paid me, pay him'. And the the thick HB man did pay him, just to keep Mr Govt happy with their figures for Direct payment to claimants.
Knowing that this would automatically win me the judgement at complaint compensation time. I got about £2,000 compensation, as HB aren't allowed to pay twice for same period, so it has to be paid as compensation. And this was from this same staff member for several tenants.
Why aren't DWP learning from this?

It's took HB 6 to 8 years for them to finally see sense to (in my neck of the woods), to pay Landlord quite easily when Landlord says there's a problem. Why can't DWP go ask HB what is the best most efficient way to keep Landlord's mortgage going, tenant's shelter, Taxpayers money, & HB/DWP's time?

I've gave up with UC & direct payments & APA this & that so far. Going to let u deal with it Sherrelle, till u finally get the DWP to see sense.

Posting forms in 2017, when email is 1.2 seconds.

Are we saying with UC, they will not compensate Landlord for over 8 weeks arrears, if DWP keeps paying claimant?

David Bruce

5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by "Gary Dully" at "15/05/2017 - 22:39":

I would never vote for either party - especially UKIP! I am not a Nuttall case!

Neil Patterson

4 months ago

Update from Editor

Please see link to download letter of response from Neil Couling >> https://www.property118.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Neil-Couling.pdf

David Price

4 months ago

I am about to evict my second universal credit tenant under a section 8 for more than two months arrears. He has only been there for two months and has recently purchased a nice sports car but considers asking for rent harassment. He has been to see his solicitor (who lives with the tooth fairy I suspect) and knows that I cannot issue a section 8 for six months.
I have only ever had two individuals on universal credit and both tenancies have ended in tears. This I would not mind but the tears are mine!
The letter from Neil Couling is nicely spun.

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