A landlord in London has contacted LandlordZONE to plead with DWP ministers to tackle the failings of the Universal Credit (UC) system as her tenant racks up rent arrears of over £19,000.

Michelle Dighton says her tenant, who in receipt of housing benefit via UC, stopped paying the rent 18 months ago well before Covid struck but is still in receipt of housing benefit.

But she says it’s not so much the defaulting tenant or the glacial eviction process she has beef with, but rather her frustrating dealings with the DWP to resolve the situation.

Dighton rented out her property to a woman in January 2019 after receiving references and payslips both of which she claims turned out to be false.

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The tenant then moved her partner and daughter into the £1,050-a-month property in Thornton Heath, South London (pictured), without consulting Dighton and stopped paying the rent in October 2019 even though she is in receipt of housing benefit.

Universal Credit

But the biggest challenge is that the Universal Credit team refuses to communicate with her about the case or help her set up an Alternative Payment System (APA).

Her tenant claims to have moved out of the property despite clear evidence to the contrary, including a refusal to allow anyone into the property to do basic safety checks, and Dighton has now fallen between the ever widening cracks of the UC bureaucracy.

The landlord, who has started proceedings to regain possession of the house but which have been delayed by the Covid eviction ban, has a mortgage on the property and a second charge against her existing home.

Consequently, she says her family are very likely to lose their own home soon unless she can get the tenant out or sort out payments with UC.

“What I find frustrating is that the system ignores landlords while knowingly helping tenants like mine game the system and live in properties for free – my tenant’s non-payment has nothing to do with Covid,” she says.

“I am at my wits end over this but there is no one you can turn to – DWP won’t talk to me, the local council and Police won’t help and simply I don’t know where else to turn to.”

This case is a familiar story for UC specialist Bill Irvine, who recently told LandlordZONE that the usually helpful DWP landlord telephone helpline has stopped working, that emails to case managers with ‘meritorious’ APA requests are ignored or are taking weeks to be answered, and that overall the “system is not delivering landlords’ and Parliament’s expectations”.

How to do it better

Irvine says he wrote to the DWP last week setting out how the system could be improved to help landlords like Michelle Dighton. It says the system of setting up an Alternative Payment Arrangements (APA) to enable a tenant’s rent to be paid direct to the landlord would be much less likely to be abused by tenants if DWP staff would:

  1. Acknowledge each application;
  2. Suspend payment of the housing costs element (HCE), pending a decision on the merits of the landlord/agent’s application, especially where the application provides evidence of earlier misuse of funds;
  3. Once a decision is made, provide a written outcome that allows the landlord applicant to discern what’s actually happened;
  4. Provide PRS landlords with a dedicated email address and/or telephone number where they can chase outstanding APA requests and thus avoid having to make referrals to Complaints & Resolution Teams and District Management staff.


6 COMMENTS

  1. Using LHA or its part in UC for anything other than using should be fraud. This tenant is claiming UC partly based on the cost of her housing and yet failing to pass this part on to the LL.

    As a tax payer I resent the fact that this tenant is, presumably, spending the LHA on something else – as a LL I’m frustrated that this isn’t a crime.

  2. Tricia, indeed, it is fraud and theft and should be treated as a crime.

    Michelle, I’ve been in the same situation and was close to a break down. It’s TRUE, there’s absolutely no one you can turn to. I managed to get a possession order, but I can’t enforce it. The council told the tenant that it’s their legal right to stay in the property. The DWP wouldn’t talk to a landlord, the website to request a UC47 is easy and fast but nothing ever happens.. yes, I feel for you, I know exactly what you’re going through. Sadly, I haven’t got any solution for you…

    Irvine, I hope the DWP takes on your suggestions. They should have a contact number for landlords. It’s high time, authorities engage with landlords to sort out problem tenants.

    It’s highly alarming that authorities seem totally ignorant to the fact that tenants pocket housing payments = tax payers’ money. It’s high time that the DWP revisits its policy on UC, that housing payments should go to landlords directly again.

  3. Indeed it is only on production of a valid AS To at the commencement of a tenancy that generates the relevant HB award.

    Without such an AST then no HB would be paid.

    Using an AST contract to obtain HB and then using the funds for other than the rent is fraud by deception.

    Any tenant who uses HB for anything other than paying rent is essentially committing benefit fraud.

    The DWP however don’t seem to accept that this fraud is occurring.

    It is a most of peculiar situation that HB may be claimed and spent on other things with impunity whereas other benefits falsely claimed could result in prosecution!

    Effectively the State is sanctioning tenant fraud!!

    Very perplexing for LL!

  4. Write to your MP (where you live) who has a direct contact with the DWP/Job Centre who awards the UC. They are able to change that the HB part is paid to the landlord. The option exists.

  5. That is why no more benefit tenants for me . Two years ago I had someone like that and she still owes me £8,500 and I was in contact with the council and they are useless most of the times some of them are so stupid they haven’t got a clue what they are doing,as a result I lost £8,500 and the tenant was having a parties and buying designer clothes with my money ,I had to evict her and she moved out the night before the bailiff and she stole everything in the house.I called the police but they didn’t do any thing .I have so many stories like this about benefit tenants , that’s why I rather leave my properties empty than having a benefit tenants. I even had a prostitute in one of my 4 bed semi she had 5 young children and she was claiming benefit when the next door complained to me about her .I reported her to the council instead of being grateful . Guess what the council did ? They asked me to pay back all the housing benefit I was paid after she didn’t pay me for 8 weeks and I asked the council to pay me directly ,I said absolutely not I am not paying back a penny ,the council took me to court and the judge said the landlady hasn’t done anything wrong but the tenants has go get your money from the tenants .That felt great ,can you see why I hate having benefit tenants ? I have a lot more stories about them ,Now I am free of them .

  6. The entire PRS should refuse to rent to any tenant on benefits. If all PRS LLs did that now, the massive rise in homelessness would be so great that the Government would be forced to deal with the problem as a matter of national emergency. The sector has to force the Governments hand otherwise, it will continue to abuse PRS landlords.
    The Government could deal with the immediate problem of rent arrears by simply clearing existing arrears and paying the rent directly to LL. That would probably clear many of the eviction cases overnight but instead, the eviction ban is extended and LL have little hope of getting back control of their property any time soon.
    PRS LLs will remember this and never rent to benefit tenants ever again. Also, referencing will be much tighter and whole groups of potential tenants will not be considered and rents will rise. Better to haver an empty property than have a ‘rent free’ tenant!

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