The UK’s leading Universal Credit (UC) consultant Bill Irvine has warned that landlords will soon start drifting away from accepting tenants on benefits unless the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) sorts out its creaking administration system soon.
His comments come at a crucial time as the debate between landlords and housing campaigners hots up over the issue of ‘No DSS’ blanket policies employed by some landlords and letting agents, and the recent Shelter-sponsored landmark court case.
“Universal Credit in itself is workable for tenants and landlords and has admirable aims, but the way it’s run has been increasingly frustrating and illogical for several years,” he says.
Irwine works every day at the coal face, fielding calls from both newbie and experienced landlords, many of whom are trying to set up or manage an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA) to have the housing element of their tenant’s UC paid direct to them.
He believes that the DWP’s ideological obsession with giving tenants more responsibility by paying what used to be called Housing Benefit direct to them also means that landlords are being kept out of the loop when decisions are made about individual APAs.
Talking about one case, Irvine says: When, finally, [the decision letter] arrived, it said – “sorry, but due to “GDPR” we can’t tell you anything.
“Any landlord or letting agent involved with the scheme will be familiar with that same lame excuse used in APA refusals time and time again.”
One of the most common problems is that even when the DWP does decide to allow an APA, all too often the money is paid direct to the tenant by mistake anyway.
“In one recent case the landlord only got the money because I was involved and had been alerted informally that the payment was on its way – so the landlord went down and persuaded the tenant to pay the owed rent to him,” he says.
“That was a good outcome, but within a system that is sometimes run by inexperienced and poorly-trained DWP staff, and that is designed to keep human intervention to a minimum, it often means landlords are out of pocket for months and even years.
“And when a problem is uncovered by the DWP, they will often suspend payments while they investigate. This only helps the tenant get further into arrears and landlords be owed more money, and makes evictions more likely.”