With the national roll out of the Universal Credit digital service just two months away RLA trainer Bill Irvine is warning landlords they must be prepared if they have tenants who rely on benefits to pay their rent.
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the digital system will be rolled out from May this year in Bath, Newcastle, Rugby, Bridgewater and Lowestoft.
A further 25 Job Centre Plus (JCP) areas will be added between July to December, with the expectation that all JCP areas will be completed by June 2018.
Mr Irvine, an RLA consultant, said the move is significant, in that in most areas claims have been restricted to single “working age” adults, whereas the digital system deals with all claimant types including couples, couples with children, single parents, people with disabilities and those working full and part-time.
So far in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced a significant number of landlords – 50-60% have been able to negotiate direct payments. However full implementation of the system could see problems arise around a range of issues, from Alternative Payment Arrangements, backdating of claims and overpayments to situations arising from couples splitting up and households combining.
Tax expert Bill, who delivers training courses on Universal Credit on behalf of the RLA said: “Clearly, this represents a major step forward for DWP and Universal Credit’s future.
“Social and private landlords, in the areas identified, can expect a significant increase in Universal Credit claims from all tenant types, as the “gateway” conditions that currently apply to restrict claims to mainly single men are effectively removed. “
Bill said that many social and private landlords in the Manchester, Liverpool and Wirral areas, where Universal Credit is already in operation, received only one months notice before implementation and has advised landlords not to get caught napping.
He said: “Being prepared should now be a priority if you’re a landlord heavily engaged in Local Housing Allowance type tenancies. You need to be fully conversant with these new and sometimes very complex issues.
“Don’t anticipate assistance from DWP, as to date, it has operated at arms-length, is quite ambivalent to tenant/landlord enquiries/complaints and recently banned landlords from utilising its “Complaints Process” when trying to secure compensation for wholly avoidable rental loss.
“If you’d like to find out more about Universal Credit then I’d encourage you to attend one of the RLA’s training courses in London, Manchester or Birmingham.”
For Bill’s latest bulletins on Universal Credit click here.