Housing Systems: Combating poverty and sustaining tenancies.

Newsletters: January 2017

January 2017 Newsletter

Happy New Year and welcome to this month's newsletter packed full of useful benefit information.

In this issue find out more about:

  • Supported Housing and Welfare Reforms- new Briefing Paper.
  • Avoiding UC if found fit for work- important matters for claimants to consider.
  • HB - Alternatives to Backdating-ways to get around the time limits
  • Bereavement Support Payment- new scheme from April 2017
  • Universal Credit- some issues in digital service areas
  • HB or UC in Gateway areas?-claimants still being wrongly advised

As well as:

  • Your chance to WIN £50 for your local FOOD BANK, and chocolates for you!
  • This month's really useful standard letter.
Supported Housing and Welfare Reforms

Housing costs for supported accommodation have been brought further into the spotlight due to the rollout of the digital Universal Credit service. Local authorities are having to decide whether UC claimants' accommodation fits the definition of 'specified accommodation', which determines whether help with rent should come from UC or HB. This involves local authorities looking more closely at the level of care, support and supervision provided. In some cases this scrutiny has led to rent restrictions.

The rules on the various types of supported accommodation are very complicated - so for those of you who are brave enough, we have produced a

briefing paper- 01/2017.

Click here

How to avoid Universal Credit when ESA stops
If someone’s payments of ESA stop because they have been found fit for work, or treated as fit for work after failing to return their ESA50 questionnaire by the deadline or failing to attend their medical examination without good cause, they may decide to make a new claim for benefit and they may end up on Universal Credit.

Even if they challenge the decision to end their ESA award and they win that challenge, once on Universal Credit the government’s intention is that they will remain on UC and they will not be able to swap back onto ESA*. Instead, if they are deemed unfit to work - their Universal Credit will include a Limited Capability for Work or a Limited Capability for Work Related Activity element.

* In ‘live’ non-digital UC areas it can be possible to swap back onto ESA –click here for more information.

Why might someone prefer to be on ESA than UC?

Some people will be financially better off if they can avoid UC or (where the Live non-digital service is available) get back onto ESA. On the other hand, some people could get more on UC -click here.

The table below illustrates how much a single person age 25+ would receive on ESA / UC in different circumstances. Remember, this is just one part of UC we are comparing with the legacy benefits – it is always best to get advice on someone’s individual circumstances: there could be other important factors to consider too!

ESA UC (weekly figures)
In WRAG and not entitled to EDP or SDP £102.15 £102.15
In WRAG and entitled to SDP £164.00 £102.15
In Support Group and not entitled to SDP £125.05 £145.77
In Support Group and entitled to SDP £186.90 £145.77

*EDP = Enhanced Disability Premium
*SDP = Severe Disability Premium

So if someone wants to avoid UC when challenging their ESA decision – what can they do?

This will depend on whether they live in a Live (non-digital) or a Full (digital) UC service area…

Live (non-digital) areas

The gateway conditions still exist in Live UC service areas; so if someone does not fit the gateway conditions they cannot claim UC. One of the gateway conditions is that the claimant must not be awaiting the outcome of a request to revise an ESA decision; so if the claimant requests a mandatory reconsideration of the decision to end their ESA award before trying to claim UC, they can avoid UC because they fail the gateway conditions and cannot claim UC: they could claim JSA instead. More information here.

Full (digital) service areas

There are no gateway conditions under the digital service, so anyone who needs to make a new claim for legacy benefits cannot do so and, if they want to claim a top-up, must claim UC. Therefore the only way to avoid UC is by not making a claim.

The following points are worth noting:
  • While challenging the ESA decision it is not possible to be paid any ESA until the appeal has been lodged with HM Courts & Tribunals Service.
  • It is not possible to lodge an appeal until the Mandatory Reconsideration decision has been made. So there is a period which could be as little as 2 weeks or could be several weeks when the claimant has to either manage without claiming UC or make a claim for UC.
  • If they can manage without claiming UC, once the appeal has been lodged and HMCTS have notified the ESA department that they have received the appeal, the basic amount of ESA can then be paid to the claimant. Arrears can also be paid to cover the whole period for which the claimant has been without any payments.
  • This does not count as a new claim for ESA – it is merely putting the existing claim back into payment. We are aware that in some UC Full (digital) Service areas, the DWP are telling ESA claimants that they cannot have their payments of ESA reinstated and must claim UC instead - this is incorrect. The ESA regulations have not been amended, this is not a new claim for ESA and therefore this situation should not trigger a UC claim.
  • If they then go on to win their appeal, the claimant will be awarded the extra components and premiums they are entitled to.
  • And if they manage to remain on ESA – ie they continue to be found to have a limited capability for work - when they are eventually ‘migrated’ onto UC,their rate of benefit will be protected.
So some people in digital service areas are taking the view that it is better to try to manage for a few weeks rather than make a claim for UC.

An important point to remember is this: If they did claim UC they would have to wait one month and seven days for their first payment anyway; so going down the alternative route (finding other ways to manage until they can lodge their appeal and have ESA paid again) can in many cases take less time.

If the claimant’s Housing Benefit award has been terminated after ESA ended, the claimant should make sure they request a review of that decision – ie get the original HB award reinstated. They will not be allowed to make a new claim for HB – and would be directed to claim Universal Credit.

What if the claimant withdraws their UC claim before a decision is made?

If the claimant has made a claim for UC but then withdraws their claim before a determination is made (which is normally at the end of their first monthly assessment period), then it is as if that UC claim never existed and they should not be classed as a UC claimant.

This would be the case whether the claimant lives in a Full (digital) or Live (non-digital) UC area; even in a digital service area a claimant who feels they would be better trying to manage without UC until they can lodge their appeal, then get back onto ESA payments pending their appeal, could avoid UC if they withdraw that claim. In practice, it could be quite tricky getting this sorted out, but legally there is no reason why this cannot be done. They would need to ensure that their HB is continuous, so if their claim has been terminated, they will need to request a revision to get it reinstated (because in a digital UC area they cannot make a new claim for HB - it would be UC instead).

If you would like more advice on a particular case. please contact us: info@housingsystems.co.uk.
DHPs and APAs

Currently the subject of much confusion and discussion!

When do managed payments to the landlord have to be stopped
to allow a Discretionary Housing Payment?
And when is this not required?

See our 'Hot Topics' page

Click here

Maximising Housing Benefit when more than one month's backdate is needed
Since the rules changed last year, the maximum period for a backdate of HB for working age claimants is now just one month.

So, if you are helping a tenant who should have made their new claim more than one month ago or whose previous HB award was terminated, it is certainly worth checking if there is another way to extend the period of their HB entitlement.

This could be by:
  • getting the previous HB claim reinstated
  • asking the HB office to use the 'closed period supersession rules'
  • linking the backdate to the (longer) backdate period for a passport benefit.
For more details have a look at the information on our website which has been updated - more info here.

Trying to get the old claim reinstated is also worth considering where the previous award started before 1st May 2016 and included the family premium. The family premium is no longer included in any new claim made from that date onwards, but requesting a reconsideration to get the old claim would mean the family premium is included.

Bereavement Support Payment

from April 2017

The government have announced the final proposals for the new Bereavement Support Payment,which replaces the current bereavement benefits (ie. Bereavement Allowance, Widowed Parent's Allowance and Bereavement Payment) for those who are bereaved from 6th April 2017.

The proposals(which are still to be debated in parliament)are:
  • the payment will be available to people under state pension age whose spouse or civil partner dies on or after 6th April 2017
  • the late spouse / civil partner must have paid National Insurance contributions at 25 times the lower earnings limit in any one tax year
  • claimants with children will receive a one-off lump sum payment of £3,500 and then a further 18 monthly payments of £350
  • claimants with no dependant children will receive a one-off lump sum payment of £2,500 and then a further 18 monthly payments of £100
  • bereavement support payments will not be taxed,will be subject to a disregard for means-tested benefits,will not be included as 'welfare' for the Benefit Cap and will not 'overlap' with contributory ESA or JSA.
Those who are already receiving bereavement benefits or whose spouse or civil partner dies before 6th April 2017 will be paid (or continue to be paid) under the current scheme(ie. Bereavement Allowance/Widow's Pension or Widowed Parent's Allowance and Bereavement Payment).

The government has said the intention is to shift the focus of bereavement benefits from replacing the deceased spouse's/civil partner's earnings to helping with the more immediate costs of bereavement.

How do the old and the new schemes compare?

- The new scheme is available to all ages under state pension age, but under the old scheme those without children must be age 45 or over to qualify.
- The one-off lump sum payment is higher under the new scheme - under the old scheme it is £2000.

- However, the regular payments are lower under the new scheme
  • for those with children - the new scheme gives £80.76 per week for 18 months, compared with £112.55 potentially for a much longer period (ie until the children are no longer dependant) under the old scheme
  • for those without children - payments drop from between £33.77 and £112.55 per week under the old scheme to £23.08 pw (although the payments last for 18 months under the new scheme, as opposed to 12 months under the old scheme).
More details here.
Open Training courses - get booked on!

We are running the following open courses at South Liverpool Housing, in Speke, South Liverpool:

Essential Welfare Reform: What you need to know
Wednesday 1st March

Calculating Universal Credit
Wednesday 29th March

Click here for the outlines.

Book a place for just £95+vat per delegate.
email info@housingsystems.co.uk

Universal Credit
Full Digital Service-advisers beware!

The rollout of the 'Full' (digital) Service is now well underway. Whether your area has already 'gone digital', the Full Service is soon to arrive in your area, or even if you won't get the Full Service until some time in 2018, it is a good idea to be thinking ahead, in preparation, to help make things run as smoothly as possible.

When your area gets the Full Service, you will certainly see a substantial increase in the number of tenants claiming UC. And not only will the number of claimants increase, there will be more claimants with complex situations claiming UC too! Under the Full Service, there are no 'gateway conditions', so tenants with complex needs or who are vulnerable, who need to make a new claim for a means-tested benefit, will be claiming UC.

We have been receiving information from some of our subscribers who work in Full Service areas about some issues which are causing problems to claimants and landlords.Thank you to those who have shared information with us - it is invaluable! We have added anew page to the website, under the heading Problem areas: Digital Service.Of course we will keep the information up to date, so please let us know of any other common issues you are aware of.

Many of the common issues are related to difficulties assisting claimants:
  • Claimants without the IT / literacy skills to be able to make and manage their UC claim finding it difficult to get help.
  • Problems with getting access to computers / the internet.
  • Both of the above delaying the date of claim.
  • Service centre delays in dealing with changes / responding to queries.
  • Difficulties with getting to speak to an adviser on the phone.
  • Explicit consent(written consent from the claimant about the specific query) needed before DWP will give information to claimants' representatives.
Be careful when helping claimants!

We are aware that in some Full Service areas some claimants have requested their income officer / welfare benefits adviser to log into their UC account on their behalf, ie they were not present with their officer / adviser and offered their password details over the phone.

Although this may be tempting, as an easy way to check what is going on with someone's UC claim, it carries significant risks to the officer / adviser should something go wrong.

Accepting and using someone else's secure password may not only breach employers'terms and conditions and be a disciplinary matter, but also, if anything went wrong with the UC award (eg. an underpayment or overpayment) and the claimant accused the adviser of tampering with their claim, legal costs may not be covered as the employer's insurance would most likely be invalidated.

Even when you are present with the claimant, it is advisable to look away when the claimant is logging in to their UC account and make it clear to the claimant that they must not let you know their Personal Security Number, just as you would not look at someone's PIN number for their bank card.

Once the claimant has logged in to their UC account, they may ask you to look at their journal. They may even ask you to type some information or a query onto the journal.

So to protect yourself (in case of any future accusations), it would be a good idea to:
  • Read over everything you have typed to your tenant - to check the claimant is happy with it before clicking the 'submit' button.
  • Get the claimant to sign a confirmation form, which you keep on file, recording: the date and time;that they have logged in securely without you seeing their password / PSN; the claimant's agreement to you looking at their account and confirmation of what information has been input which, although typed by you, has been read out to the claimant who agrees.
We have produced a pro forma: UC G1 you could use for this purpose.

Your chance to
win £50 for your local food bank

Every month we give you the chance to win £50 for your local food bank. Last month's winner was Daniel from Derby Homes.

Just email the answer (A, B, C,D or E)to the question below to us by 
Friday 17th February for your chance to win.

The winner will be selected at random and can nominate a food bank of their choice to receive a £50 cheque from us, and will receive a box of chocolates for themselves.

This month’s question is about the changes from April 2017 to housing costs for 18-21 year olds!

Which one of the following young tenants will not be able to get help with their rent under the new rules?(Imagine we are a few months in the future!)

Find your answers on this page, where you will find the link to our new flowchart!

A. Alex is 19. He has no income and has been sleeping on his friend’s sofa since he had a big row and left his dad’s house. In May 2017 he moves into a social housing scheme for young people with mental health issues where 24/7 support is provided. The scheme is in Runcorn which has the Full (digital) UC Service.

B. Billie is 20. She had been working full time for the previous 2 months when she took on her one bedroom rented flat in May 2017, but in July 2017 she loses her job. She is looking for another job and makes a claim for Universal Credit. She lives in Bury so her UC claim is under the Live (non-digital) service.

C. Charley is 19.She had been working full time for the previous 3 months when she took on her one bedroom rented flat in April 2017, but in June 2017 she loses her job. She is looking for another job and makes a claim for Universal Credit. She lives in Taunton so her UC claim is under the Full (digital) service.

D. Davinder is 20. He was working and not claiming any benefits when he moved into his 1 bed flat in Lancaster in December 2016. But in March 2017 he loses his job. He makes a claim for UC on 25th March – it is a digital UC claim.

E. Elliot is 19. He has been claiming Income-Related ESA for the last 9 months:he is in the Work Related Activity Group. In June 2017 he gets the chance to move from his mum's house into his own flat; which is great because he has not been getting on with his mum and this has made his health worse. He has been offered a one bedroom flat, but as it is in a UC digital service area, he is going to have to claim UC instead of ESA and HB.

email your answer to: info@housingsystems.co.uk

This topic is one of several which will be covered on our new training course for 2017:
Essential Welfare Reform: What you need to know
Course outline here
Book a place on our open course in Speke on 1st March - or contact us to arrange your own in-house course.

This month's useful
standard letter

With hundreds of useful standard letters on the website it would be surprising if you were aware of all of them.So each month we are going to feature just one.

This month's letter is: LOP8

Use this letter when the HB Office notify you that your tenant has been overpaid and the HB Office intend to either recover from the tenant or from you the landlord.

If the overpayment was not caused by you the landlord and you were not aware of the tenant's circumstances, recovery should only be from the tenant and you can challenge the decision to recover from you.

It is important to challenge the decision now to protect your position in the future. Even if the HB Office have chosen to recover from the tenant at present (eg from their on-going HB award), in the future the claimant may stop receiving HB and the method of recovery would then switch to the landlord. This is going to happen more and more as more claimants move onto UC instead of HB! See our flowchart- 'HB overpayment invoice for UC claimant'.

So, if you have already challenged (within the time limits) the decision that they can recover from you - and that challenge succeeded, you have protected yourself for the future!

Click here for more information.

Did you Know?

Some people are still wrongly being told by local authorities that they have to claim UC
instead of HB ?

We have received a number of queries about tenants who have been told by local authorities that they cannot make a new claim for Housing Benefit -they have to claim UC instead, due to the '6 month rule'.

The rules are complicated, but in brief:
If the claimant is in a Full (digital) UC Service area- any new claim cannot be for HB - it has to be for UC (apart from claimants living in 'specified accommodation' who will claim both UC and HB)
If they are in a Live (non-digital) Service area, then the HB Office can only refuse to accept a claim for HB from someone who is classed as a 'UC claimant'. Find out who this is and isn't here.
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