A Universal Credit expert has blasted the government’s claims that the benefits system is working smoothly for private landlords.
In answer to a Parliamentary question, junior housing minister Will Quince (main pic) said its online system allowed better interaction with Universal Credit.
“Private landlords are now able to request a Universal Credit tenant’s rent is paid directly to them online, which helps claimants who struggle with managing their money to pay their rent,” said Quince.
But Bill Irvine (pictured) at UC Advice & Advocacy, tells LandlordZONE that plenty of landlords are being treated very poorly by the DWP, unlike their social landlord colleagues who are notified when one of their tenants makes a UC claim and can apply and receive, within minutes, the redirection of the housing costs element.
For private landlords, once they’ve applied, there is no formal acknowledgement, no timescale indication for processing, no dedicated email or telephone number to enquire about what’s happening and, without the explicit consent of their ‘delinquent tenant’, no means of meaningfully speaking to DWP staff, says Irvine.
“During the past year, DWP have used a ‘trust and protect’ policy which effectively means it will accept the word from tenants and even illegal sub-tenants before anything offered by landlords.
“This relaxation of the normal checks allowed delinquent tenants to fraudulently download ASTs with false information about tenancies and rent levels. It also allowed tenants to illegally sub-let, with DWP paying ‘housing costs’ without any contact with DWP.”
He adds: “I’ve had a meeting with the National Audit Office and discovered its staff there were just as frustrated by DWP as we are.”
Last week, the DWP admitted that spiralling fraud and overpayments in the benefits system now stands at the highest rate ever recorded. It estimates it overpaid £8.3 billion of the £111.4 billion that it spent on benefits in 2020-21, with nearly all of the increase in fraud and error on Universal Credit.