An open letter to DWP Neil Couling regarding Universal CreditMake Text Bigger
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
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?
Update from Editor
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