Housing Systems: Combating poverty and sustaining tenancies.

Newsletters: October 2017

October 2017 Newsletter

Welcome to this month's newsletter - bringing you right up to date with useful benefit information.

In this issue find out more about:

  • Wrong Advice- which make claimants worse off - a new letter to send to your HB Office.
  • Health and Work Conversations- find out about the new mandatory interviews for new ESA claimants.
  • UC Helpline- to be made a freephone
  • Updated UC47- for applying for APA Managed Payments
  • Roll out of Landlord Portal- as Digital UC rolls out
  • Our Latest 'Tool'- Missing APA MP Predictor
  • Universal Credit as a 'passport'- help with health costs and more
  • Our popular UC Booklet - now available in Welsh
  • UC in Scotland- new choices for new digital service claimants.
  • JSA Hardship Payments- new rules help the homeless and those with mental health problems
  • Housing Benefit- new rules on Additional Earnings Disregard reversed
  • Payments from Certain Trusts- new regulations to disregard these payments.
As well as:
  • Your chance to WIN £50 for your local FOOD BANK and chocolates for you!
  • This month's really useful standard letter.
  • This month's really useful tool!

About who must claim UC once an area has gone onto the 'Full'/Digital service
We have become aware that in some areas Housing Benefit staff are wrongly advising existing HB claimants that they need to claim Universal Credit when they move to another tenancy within the same local authority area.

As many claimants are worse off on the Universal Credit system this is a practice that needs challenging.........

Use our new standard letter HB UC1 - and please contact us for advice if your HB Office refuses to change.

This is just one example of tenants being given the wrong advice and ending up on UC when they didn't need to -click here for other examples.

'Health and Work Conversations'
for ESA claimants

The Health and Work Conversation is a new feature of ESA. Most people who make a new claim for Employment and Support Allowance will now be required to attend an interview with a Work Coach at their local Jobcentre around four weeks into their claim.

Attending a Health and Work Conversation is mandatory,(although some people are exempt). This means that failure to attend without good cause can lead to a sanction!

Those who are exempt from attending include those who are terminally ill and fall under the 'special rules', anyone receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer, lone parents with a baby under 1 year old, and where attending a Health and Work Conversation interview would put the claimant (or anyone else) at risk, due to their health condition. For a full list of who is exempt see here.

What is a health and work conversation?

During the interview, the Work Coach will go through a booklet with the claimant and the claimant will come up with an action plan.

DWP guidance says:
“The interview is a discussion between the claimant and the work coach to identify voluntary actions the claimant can take to build their confidence and motivation.... This mandatory conversation supports claimants with health conditions and disabilities, it allows the claimant and work coach to discuss their skills, abilities and goals and find out about the support that is available to help them move closer to work.”

So, whilst attending and participating in the Health and Work Conversation is mandatory, if the claimant does not complete the actions in their action plan, this would not be a sanctionable offence.

For more information about the questionnaire which is completed,what is likely to be discussed and what happens when someone fails to attend a Health and Work Conversation see here.

DWP Helplines
to be made Freephone Numbers

The government have announced that all DWP customer helpline numbers will become freephone numbers by the end of the year.

The first change will be to the Universal Credit Helplines. The government has said this will be 'in November'. There are two different helpline numbers for UC claimants - one for Live/Gateway Service claimants and another for Full/Digital Service claimants. We assume that both numbers will change to 0800 or 0808 numbers soon. Check our News Headlines page for updates!

Make sure you are using the latest UC47 when applying for APA managed payments.

Latest version: 12th October 2017

Click here
Find out more about the
UC Landlord Portal

Click here
Missing Managed Payment Predictor..........

Receiving APA Managed Payments for claimants on the 'Full'/Digital UC service?

Use our new tool to predict which APA/TPD schedule will be missing a payment.

Click here

Help with
Health Costs
for Universal Credit Claimants

Did you know that Universal Credit can 'passport' someone for help with certain NHS costs?

UC claimants whose earned income does not exceed the limit which applies to them can get free prescriptions, free eye sight tests, free dental treatment, free wigs and fabric supports, and assistance with travel costs to NHS hospital or clinic appointments.

The earnings limits are:

  • £435 in any Monthly Assessment Period,or
  • £935 in any Monthly Assessment Period for anyone with a child element included in their UC assessment, or where the claimant/partner has been found to have a limited capability for work.

Which box to tick for free prescriptions?

You may have noticed that the reverse of a prescription, where the patient must tick the box to confirm which 'passport benefit' they are receiving, does not yet include Universal Credit. The NHS website states that where Universal Credit is not listed, patients should tick the box for Income Based Jobseeker's Allowance instead. We have heard about somebody who was fined for giving false information when they did this! If this happens to anyone, they should, of course,challenge the fine and point out the advice on the NHS website.
More information here.

(Note that in Scotland, prescriptions,dental check-ups, sight tests, wigs and fabric supports are already free for everyone; and in Wales, prescriptions, wigs and fabric supports are free for all,regardless of income - however the above rules apply for getting help with the other NHS health costs listed above.)

Other help that Universal Credit can be a'passport' to...

You may already be aware that anyone on Universal Credit can get free school meals for their children (and as yet there is no restriction if the claimant has earnings from work). But did you know that UC could also be a 'passport' (depending on certain other conditions)to Healthy Start Vouchers, help with school uniform,Sure Start Maternity Grants, Funeral Payments, Cold Weather Payments, travel expenses to visit someone in prison, the Watersure scheme and legal aid? Find more details here.

Have you seen our handy

Universal Credit Booklet?

Now available in Welsh...........
Why not order some?

- just £125+vat for 500

Click here for more information

Scottish flexibilities
for Universal Credit claimants

Anyone living in Scotland and making a new claim for Universal Credit in a Full/Digital Service area from 4th October 2017 can choose to

  • Have their housing costs paid to their landlord as an APA Managed Payment
and / or
  • Be paid twice monthly instead of monthly.
These are new options available to claimants, with no conditions attached ie it does not depend on the level of rent arrears or on any vulnerabilities. This is a free choice open to new claimants.

Eligible claimants will be offered the choice on their UC account after they have received their first payment of Universal Credit, ie at the start of their second Monthly Assessment Period. Landlords will be notified if their tenants opt for the APA managed payment (these landlords may find our 'Missing Managed Payment Predictor' helpful - see above).

If a claimant chooses one or both of these options and at a later date wishes to revert back, they can do so (although the protections for landlords will remain in place - so where there are arrears at 2 months or more the landlord can apply for a managed payment and third party deductions for arrears, as has always been the case).

The intention is that these choices will be made available to pre-existing Full Service UC claimants in Scotland from early January 2018.

These flexibilities have been introduced by the Scottish Government using its devolved powers -these changes are not being introduced elsewhere in GB.

Did you know?

What's new about JSA Hardship

When someone on Jobseeker's Allowance is sanctioned, they can apply for a Hardship Payment. Most claimants must wait 2 weeks before they can apply - but certain 'vulnerable' claimants can apply straight away.

From 23 October 2017 two new categories are added to this list:

  • If the claimant / couple is homeless
  • Where the claimant / partner has a long term mental impairment
For the full list of who can apply straight away and more information on JSA Hardship - see here.

It is important that the claimant is also aware of their right to challenge the sanction decision!

They may have a good reason for their actions / failure which caused the sanction and may be successful if they request a mandatory reconsideration or appeal.

Many claimants do not bother to challenge them, especially if the sanction period is 4 weeks - because, by the time the decision has been revised, the sanction period has ended anyway. But it is important to challenge where the claimant has a good case for two reasons:
  • Any shortfall between the amount of JSA they should have received and the Hardship Payment they were paid will be due to them as a backpayment; and
  • Sanction periods can escalate for further offences at the same 'level'. So by having the previous sanction removed, the subsequent offence would not have the 'escalated' period.
More information here.

HB additional earnings disregard-unintentional change corrected

You may remember in our July 2017 newsletter we highlighted news of the change to the Housing Benefit Regulations which meant that more couples would be entitled to the additional earnings disregard of £17.10 per week. This was because the change in the Regulations (from 23rd June 2017) meant that the additional disregard was available where one member of the couple was disabled and either member of the couple was working 16 or more hours per week – it did not have to be the disabled member of the couple who was working.

Unfortunately, it appears that this was an unintentional error in the drafting of the Amendment Regulations. So it has been corrected!

New Amendment Regulations,in force from 3rd November 2017, reinstate the original position – ie in order to qualify for the additional earnings disregard, it must be the member of the couple who satisfies the qualifying conditions for the disability premium, or who is a member of the work related activity group who is working 16 or more hours per week.

Find more information on earnings disregards here.

Payments from
Infected Blood Schemes or the Thalidomide Trust

New regulations have been published to confirm that payments from the new Infected Blood Schemes and the Thalidomide Trust are to be fully disregarded as income or capital when calculating Housing Benefit, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker's Allowance and Pension Credit. There is new decision makers' guidance too.

You may have heard of the following schemes which have provided financial support to people infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C as a result of contaminated NHS blood or blood products:The Eileen Trust, The Macfarlane Trust, MFET Ltd, The Skipton Fund and The Caxton Foundation.These schemes were replaced in Scotland by the Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme from 1.4.17 and in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, by the Infected Blood Schemes (IBS)from 2.10.17.

The Thalidomide Health Grant is administered on behalf of the Department of Health by the Thalidomide Trust (TT) for the purpose of giving relief and assistance to disabled people whose disabilities were caused by their mothers having taken Thalidomide during pregnancy.

New Universal Credit guidance confirms that these payments are already fully disregarded as income / savings in UC, under Regulations 75(4) and 76 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

So, if you are aware of anyone who receives payments from these schemes, make sure these payments are not being taken into account when their benefits are calculated.

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 highlight one for you.

This month we would like to highlight two letters: Standard Letter ND3 and Standard Letter ND3a.

ND3 is to request a revision if the Housing Benefit Office start to impose a non-dependant deduction too soon for a non-dep who is aged under 25 and is on Income-Related ESA.

In theory, the non-dep's ESA personal allowance should increase from £61.05 to £77.00 per week from week 14 of their ESA claim. (This is more than they would receive if they were claiming Income Support or Income-Based JSA, and is the reason why a non-dep deduction of £15.25 is imposed on under 25's on IR-ESA in the 'main phase', but not on under 25's getting IS/IB-JSA).

However, ESA medical assessments are rarely completed within the first 13 weeks of the claim, so under 25's can be waiting much longer to be put on the higher personal allowance. The non-dep deduction should only be applied from the date the decision is made to put the ESA claimant in the Work Related Activity Group or the Support Group, not retrospectively - ie for the period they were actually getting paid just £61.05 no non-dependant deduction should be made.

Similarly, if the ESA claimant has been found fit for work,is appealing this decision and is claiming the basic rate of ESA until the outcome of the appeal is known, they will get the lower rate of £61.05 per week. So,there should be no non-dep deduction applied while this is the case. If the HB Office are continuing to impose a deduction in this situation, your tenant can use letter ND3a.

Both letters can be found 
here. And there is more information about non-dependants on ESA here.

This month's

useful 'tool'

In addition to highlighting one of our standard letters in each newsletter- we thought you may find it helpful if we also remind you each month about the many tools which are at your fingertips too!

Have you seen our Lettings Flowchart?

This is aimed at those of you that 
are letting properties in a UC Full/Digital service area: it will help you work out if the new tenant will need to claim Universal Credit or if they can remain on 'legacy' benefits.

As some claimants will be worse off if they have to claim UC when they move home (highlighted on the back of the flowchart) it is vital that they are given this information as part of the application process so they can make an informed choice about the move.

If the Full/Digital Service has not yet come to your area - have a look anyway - it will highlight some of the issues you need to be ready for!

Why not book our 'Full Service UC and Lettings' training course for your lettings team - see below!
Essential UC Training Courses

Dealing with Digital UC - Taking the Challenge -click here
Full Service UC and Lettings -click here

Book these courses in-house for just £845+vat.
- that's under £55+vat per delegate!

"Excellent trainer, very relevant and flagged up some strategic issues. I never thought I'd say I enjoyed a Welfare Benefits training session - but I really did!In fact we'd like to make it an annual event."
Keniston HA

"This was really, really useful - the best UC course I have attended so far."
Debt and Welfare Benefits Officer

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.
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.

Well done to last month's winner -
Pamela Bowie from Wellhouse Housing Association- a £50 cheque is making its way to Glasgow North East Food Bank at Calton Parkhead Parish Church.

To enter this month's competition, just email the answer to the question below to us by Friday 18th November for your chance to win.

This month we are asking:

When someone makes a new claim for Universal Credit, they may apply for a New Claim Advance or a Benefit Transfer Advance...

Name 3 differences in the rules for these (eg. who can apply, time limits to apply, repayment period).

Find your answers on pages starting from here. (You may find the summary sheet useful!)

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

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