Universal Credit roles many existing benefits into one payment. Here are some of the facets of the system that you should know about:
The Landlord Portal is an online system that enables landlords to verify a tenant’s housing costs without having to go through the secure UC47 form process. It also allows them to request an alternative payment arrangement (APA) or manage payments to landlords if required.
The Landlord Portal is available to all housing associations and the latest statistics from the DWP state that over 95% of all landlords are now registered (as of December 2018).
The DWP plans to make changes to the Landlord Portal to allow landlords to bulk transfer data on annual rent changes. This work was initially planned for spring 2019 but we now expect to see an update by autumn.
This should eliminate the need to verify individual changes. For properties or landlords that are not on the Landlord Portal, the process for Full Service Universal Credit claims will remain the same as in previous years, where the tenant will have to notify the DWP of any change in rent and service charges.
Alternative Payment Arrangements
Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs) are available for claimants who would struggle to manage standard Universal Credit payment arrangements.
There are three types of APA available:
- direct payment of the housing cost element to landlords (known as managed payments)
- splitting of payment between members of a couple
- more frequent payment of benefit.
Read the DWP’s guidance on Alternative Payment Arrangements
How do landlords request an APA?
The DWP should set up a managed payment for claimants if the following conditions are met:
- a claimant is in arrears with their rent for an amount equal to, or more than, two months of their rent.
- a claimant has continually underpaid their rent over a period of time, and they have accrued arrears of an amount equal to or more than one month’s rent.
Landlords with trusted partner status can request an APA through the Landlord Portal. If you do not have access to the Landlord Portal you can request it by completing a form on the gov.uk website.
Landlords can also use this form to inform the DWP of other reasons why a managed payment might be needed and you can now email APA requests to the DWP.
Landlords can request deductions from a claimant’s Universal Credit to repay existing rent arrears. You can do this through the APA form, when you are completing the APA application. Deductions will be a minimum of 10% and maximum of 20% of a claimant’s Universal Credit standard allowance.
Landlords cannot request the rate of deduction – the percentage deduction that applies in each case will depend on whether the claimant has any other deductions from their Universal Credit.
Housing associations will receive a notification letter when a tenant has made a claim for Universal Credit.
Landlords need to be told in advance who is moving onto Universal Credit, so they can better support tenants and prevent problems for those struggling with payments or in need of extra assistance to make their initial claim. We want to see ‘implicit consent’ restored and better use of the Landlord Portal for two-way communications between landlords and DWP. This is key to the success of managed migration.
Move to Universal Credit (formerly known as managed migration)
The next stage of Universal Credit rollout is the managed migration of claims from the legacy system. The DWP plan to start a pilot phase in Harrogate from July 2019. They will transfer ‘up to 10,000’ claims over this first phase and have expressed a strong commitment to working with social landlords as partners to work out the best way to ensure that people do not miss out on any entitlement to benefit and are able to make and manage the new claim to Universal Credit.
We are working closely with our members and the DWP on the detailed design, including how protections for vulnerable people can be strengthened and the need for better data sharing to allow social landlords to offer support to tenants and cut down administration costs.
Help to Claim (formerly known as Universal Support)
Since April 2019, Citizens Advice have been managing a new 'Help to Claim' service to support people to claim Universal Credit. Citizens Advice have received funding from the DWP to run this service for 12 months.
The service includes a wider referral system with a ‘no wrong door’ policy and supports people to make a new claim and prepare for their first payment.
You can read more about Help to Claim here or contact your local Citizens Advice for more information about how the service works in your area.
53 week rent year
The Universal Credit Regulation covering housing costs specifies that tenants with weekly tenancies will have their Universal Credit entitlement calculated on a maximum of 52 weeks.
This means that every five or so years tenants will be charged rent on the basis of 53 weeks but will only be able to receive Universal Credit to cover 52 weeks. Tenants with monthly tenancies are not affected by this rule and the Universal Credit they receive will be based on the total rent charged for that year.
The Federation previously advised that tenants with rent-free weeks would not be affected. The DWP has clarified that this is not the case. The regulations were amended in 2014 to specify that the calculation for cases with rent-free weeks will be 52 minus the number of rent free weeks. This will apply even in years where there are 53 rent weeks.
We have written to ministers setting out the impact this rule has on tenants and that the unfairness could be addressed by a very simple change to the Universal Credit to regulations. We have argued that it is neither realistic nor reasonable to expect the social housing sector to change all tenancies to monthly ones.
The Government have stated that they are considering whether to amend the formulation. To achieve this, they would have to introduce regulatory change as well as making changes to operations processes. We will keep you updated on any changes to this.
Understanding universal credit
For more information on how Universal Credit works, see the DWP's Universal Credit frequently asked questions. The DWP has also produced information on what Universal Credit means for landlords and a guide for Universal Credir claimants with housing costs.