A leading Universal Credit specialist has criticised pension minister Will Quince for giving misleading answers to parliamentary questions from two campaigning MPs over controversial Alternative Payments Arrangements.

Quince defended the system of direct rental payments during a Commons debate, despite many landlords haemorrhaging funds trying to set up Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) for the housing portion of Universal Credit while Covid-related rent arrears stack up.

And many are being given out-dated advice by the Department of Work and Pensions, according to Bill Irvine at UC Advice & Advocacy, nearly four years after the policy of ‘explicit consent’ was changed.

This means landlords can wait weeks to even get an acknowledgement of their claim for APA or are told that they’re not eligible because their tenant hasn’t given authority – even though the requirement to get their consent is no longer necessary.

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This all follows a debate in the Commons between MPs Bob Blackman and Karen Buck, who grilled pensions under-secretary Will Quince on whether landlords could get direct payments via APAs.

£440 million gap

Buck told the Commons: “One in eight tenants have built up arrears and there is a £440 million gap between what landlords believe they are owed and what tenants have paid.”

Quince said it was wrong to attribute a rise in rent arrears solely to the benefit. “We know that many tenants are arriving on Universal Credit with pre-existing rent arrears, which Universal Credit actually appears to be helping to clear over time. There is no wait…people can get an advance immediately.”

Irvine says that the minister’s excuses are misleading. He adds that even when an APA is awarded, payment can start then stop without notice when a tenant asks for funds to be redirected back to them.

On a whim

“The DWP are behaving on a whim by simply reverting payment back to the tenant as there’s been no change in the tenant’s circumstances since the APA was granted.”

He tells LandlordZONE that some tenants are abusing Universal Credit knowing it will be months before action can be taken.

“If the scheme was working properly, the majority of landlords wouldn’t be experiencing long-term rent arrears. It’s not, and regrettably, it’s causing unsustainable losses.”

However, a DWP spokesman says: “We have not heard anything from landlords about advice being given to the contrary or issues in relation to what you raise. Our guidance on this is quite clear.”

Watch the debate on Parliamentary TV.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have lost nearly 15k due to universal credit not processing my direct payments. Then just before the payment direct is approved the tenant leaves and moves on to the next landlord to pull the same trick. I no longer rent to UC claimants…. But I will rent to UC claimants who have had a job in the last 6 months as I don’t believe the upcoming wave of people who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus should be penalised…. But as soon as I’m abused again it will stop.

  2. For the life of me I cannot understand the thinking behind the decision not to pay the Landlord direct! This would eliminate rent arrears for claimants & improve the tenant & LL relationship – such a simple resolve. It our wildest dreams claimants rarely see the priority of paying their rent over other ‘needs’ & frankly why should they when the system allows them to abuse it so blatantly & they can just move from place to place leaving a trail of rent arrears in their wake!

  3. I’m amazed that no one seems to mind that UC tenants steal the rent money. Is it fraud if tenants pocket the money that UC pays them for the rent? Isn’t it a criminal offence??

    BTW, it took me 7 months, 4 applications, numerous phone calls, emails to get APA granted. The tenant diapproved after 2 months and theres nothing I can do but pray every month that she pays at least some of the rent. Third part payments was the same.

  4. Completely agree with Stephen & Jane. What’s happening to PRS landlords is nothing short of a disgrace. APA requests are not acknowledged; rarely do landlords receive an outcome letter; when payments are agreed it’s often the case they’re reverted back to tenants without warning or justification.

    In a related LLZ piece the Secretary of State suggests DWP plans to curb the use of APAs. My response is below.

    “Firstly, there’s never been “widespread” use of direct payments in the private rented sector. The Minister & Director General are getting themselves confused with what happens in the social sector, where it’s not uncommon for 80% of payments going direct because tenants simply tick a box, on their claim HB form, authorising payment to their landlord.

    In the PRS, under LHA, it was 30% to LL because landlords had to satisfy “safeguarding” rules, very similar to UC’s Tier 1 factors, which are already designed to ensure only a minority of payments will be redirected. So the intention to curb is simply unjustified.

    What the Minister should be more concerned about is, the fact landlords are losing vast sums of rental income due to a combination of DWP maladministration & tenant abuse of the APA scheme. Tenants have found that they’ll receive the first 2 months and can misuse this with no come-back.

    Others are now objecting to APA requests without any credible evidence to justify this. However, DWP staff are simply compliant, even though they already know abuse has already occurred.

    In each case I’ve pursued for compensation the Independent Case Examiner has found “maladministration” has occurred but unlike the Local Government Ombudsman refuses to instruct compensation.

    The Secretary of State is failing in her duty to safeguard public funds from being abused and is being supported by Neil Couling, DWP’s Director General. Both are completely out of touch with what’s happening on their watch. Until they change tack PRS landlords will continue to lose rental income wholly unnecessarily.”

    Bill Irvine, UC Advice & Advocacy

  5. We had such a nightmare with the first Universal Credit-claiming tenant that we now won’t even consider it unless it is from a tenant who has been affected by the coronavirus pandemonium. We had years of problems with ordinary Housing Benefit as 90% of our tenants preferred not to pay the ‘top-up’ over the HB that was issued, and when they left the property, we had endless debt-collection agencies turning up to try and get the electricity and water and credit card bills paid!
    Then we had a problem tenant whose boyfriend moved out, and who refused point-blank to get a Universal Credit claim made – the Housing Benefit claim had been in his name, although the council were deducting most of it due to her behaviour with a previous fraudulent claim – and all appeals to the council to stop penalising her current landlord for a problem with a previous tenancy were met with the astonishing response that ‘we can, so we will’!
    The tenant continually said ‘I done it’ when we asked whether she had made a rent claim, and we could not get any confirmation because she had not given consent for the claim to be discussed. It took weeks of telephone calls, letters and visits to the tenant (often not answering) to get a form signed giving explicit consent to discuss her claim. Then we got the truth – she had not made a claim at all, but merely gone into the offices (5 minutes walk from the flat), been told it would take 5 weeks to process, then walked out saying ‘I can’t wait that long’! It also transpired from the staff that her own benefit claim had been automatically transferred to Universal Credit as a ‘historic’ benefit, but that they did not do the same with the rent, and she either assumed it would be done, or just thought she could continue to get away with it. We gave her one last chance to walk 5 minutes to the offices, where we had told the staff she was coming in to make the claim, which they would help her with. She refused to do it, so we handed her the already-prepared eviction order. She eventually got out 10 minutes before the bailiffs arrived, after failing to vacate once the Court Order was granted, and left the flat in a disgusting state. She owed over £6000 in rent arrears, and there were numerous letters demanding money from the electricity suppliers (£2000+ bill) and water company, telephone companies, credit card companies. She even had a special card enabling her to pay her existing court bills in instalments! So if anyone tells me I shouldn’t discriminate against long-term unemployed benefits claimants, don’t be surprised when I tell you where you can shove yourself!

  6. Hi S Starke

    From what you’ve said, you’re one of the victims of the incompetence I’ve alluded to. Tenant consent was removed in December 2017, due to the complaints of public funds misuse made by wholly justified complainants.

    APA awards are Not up to the tenant. If you satisfy one of the Tier 1 criteria payment should be made to you. DWP has issued specific guidance on this topic confirming this.

    Bill

  7. I have been shafted by both UC and Dartford Borough Council on Benefit cases trying to get rent paid directly to me. I’ll never take another benefit case. I’d rather leave the property empty. In fact I have been and even have one left empty. Any property that becomes vacate I will sell. It make no difference now what the government say or intend to do. They confidence in the market (for me) is finished. Let the councils become the only private and social landlord. Next will be an increase in Capital Gains to try to dissuade landlords selling up along with penalties for having an empty property. We will be between and rock and hard place. Trapped for trying to provide for our futures and pensions as opposed to relying on state benefits.

    Reply

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