New advice from the DWP about complicated Universal Credit calculations

16 October 2020

Following our recent discussions with DWP, we're able to provide clarification on issues that housing associations have raised recently. This update provides information from the DWP to explain how Universal Credit payments are calculated based on different tenancies.

This update provides information for the following tenancies:

  • Absent Joint Tenant cases (Untidy tenancies).
  • Supported accommodation.
  • Shared ownership.

Absent Joint Tenant cases (Untidy tenancies)

We recently reported to DWP that there are repeated cases where housing costs were being wrongly calculated or stopped altogether because of confusion over the status of a non-resident joint tenant.

The note below from the DWP sets out their response to these problems and a new system to ensure that the tenant receives the correct amount for housing costs within their Universal Credit award.

Note from the DWP

On 23 June 2020 a new ‘Record a change in joint tenancy costs’ to-do was introduced to Universal Credit Full Service, which ensures cases are automatically correctly paid each month without the need for manual payments or continued claimant intervention. New guidance has been issued to Work Coaches and Case Managers to make them aware of the changes.

The new to-do allows agents to record how many tenants live in the property and the amount of rent/service charge the claimant pays. This ensures that that both absent joint tenant (Untidy Tenancy) or unequal apportionment of rent within a housing costs support claim are paid correctly. A claimant can report this in their journal or phone. If the claimant declares new housing costs they will need to inform us again of their circumstances. The claimant will get a journal message to tell them this.

As part of the new guidance explaining the operational process for the new ‘to-do’, Work Coaches and Case Managers are reminded that they must not:

  • Ask the claimant to re-declare housing costs as a single tenancy, unless there is a genuine change of circumstances.
  • Make a housing declaration on behalf of the claimant that it is a single tenancy.
  • Ask the claimant to get a new tenancy from their landlord or a landlord letter to confirm the claimant is solely liable.

Whenever housing costs are re-verified following a change, the new to-do is completed to ensure that the correct level of housing support continues to be paid.

These changes will ensure that the problems that claimants and landlords have experienced with Universal Credit claims in Joint Tenant cases cease.

If you are made aware of any continuing ongoing problems in this space, we would be grateful if you could bring these to our attention so we can investigate further to ensure that there are no teething issues with the new process.

Supported accommodation and Universal Credit

We have raised the problem of the routing of claims for help with housing costs for people in supported housing. We gave a number of examples of cases where people had received Universal Credit despite living in specified accommodation or where there had been a delay to the claim for Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. The response from DWP below sets out the how the current system should work.

Note from the DWP

The Universal Credit claim housing data gather includes a question to determine whether someone with housing costs lives in supported or sheltered housing. If the claimant states they live in supported or sheltered housing, no further housing information is gathered and the claimant is advised that they should contact their local authority to claim housing benefit. A journal message is also added to remind the claimant that they need to contact their local authority to claim Housing Benefit for their housing costs.

It is up to local authorities to determine that the property is specified accommodation and therefore they can accept a claim for Housing Benefit.

At the start of the supported tenancy the tenant should make a separate claim to Housing Benefit for housing costs so long as the local authority has not already confirmed that it does not consider the tenancy to be specified accommodation.

If a local authority decides that a tenancy is not specified accommodation, they confirm this to the claimant as follows; ‘The accommodation you live in does not meet the criteria for supported accommodation so you are not eligible to claim Housing Benefit. To claim support with housing costs you must declare a change in circumstances to Universal Credit and declare either ‘I rent from a council or housing association’ or ‘I rent from a private landlord’. You must not declare ‘I’m in supported or sheltered accommodation’.’ Full details of the advice local authorities were asked to provide claimants can be found in the April 2019 edition of Welfare Direct.

When a claimant re-declares their housing costs in Universal Credit because their local authority has determined that the accommodation is not specified as ‘I rent from a council or housing association’ or ‘I rent from a private landlord’, they should also ask that their housing costs award is reconsidered back to the date that they previously declared that ‘I’m in supported or sheltered accommodation’. This will enable housing costs to be awarded from the earlier date.

There is no centrally held register of supported housing and supported and sheltered housing should not be included the Landlord Portal property list.

 

Shared ownership and Universal Credit

Some NHF members reported problems with people in shared ownership receiving incorrect amounts of Universal Credit. The DWP have clarified the process for the verification of housing costs in Universal Credit below. Using this route should mean that shared owners do not have any deduction from their Universal Credit for ‘spare’ bedrooms under the Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy rules.

Note from the DWP

Social landlords are told on the Landlord Portal property upload page not to include shared ownership properties. This has always been present as an instruction. If a landlord has uploaded shared ownership properties, then they should upload a revised property list omitting these properties. This is as simple as uploading a file. If a verification request for a shared ownership property comes through the portal that it should be rejected as the DWP will verify the rental costs directly with the claimant using a different ‘to do’ request to the tenant.

Who to speak to

Sue Ramsden, Policy Leader