Five housing bodies want “urgent discussions” with the DWP over its acknowledged inability to bulk transfer rent data through the Landlord Portal.
With the vast majority of social landlords changing their rents in April, the DWP is instead putting the onus on tenants to update their housing costs.
The Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO), the National Housing Federation (NHF), Community Housing Cymru (CHC), the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA), and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) have signed a letter to Director General of Universal Credit Neil Couling asking for “urgent discussions to resolve this situation”.
With the vast majority of social landlords in the UK changing their rents in April, it had been hoped that the new rent and service-charge data, for over 900,000 households across Britain, could be uploaded by landlords through the landlord portal.
The DWP is adamant that it is the claimant’s responsibility to inform the DWP of changes.
But the signatories say this is analogous with the Direct Debit system – where it is the creditor, and not the individual, who informs the banks of changes.
SFHA Chief Executive Sally Thomas says she is “extremely disappointed” by the DWP confirming it can’t accept bulk transfer.
“By now, there are likely to be over 900,000 households, across Britain, in social-rented housing, who will have rent changes in April.
“Inevitably, there will be thousands that will not have their rents changed in time on the Universal Credit system, which will lead to stress and anxiety for them and a protracted administrative headache for both social landlords and the DWP,” said Thomas.
“The bulk upload of data has been a long and well-established procedure with Housing Benefit, and, indeed, it was an accepted process with the earlier so-called live service version of Universal Credit,” she said.
Testing of bulk data transfer had been taking place during 2019/20, following the failure to implement it in April 2019, and it was believed by the social landlords involved that the tests had gone well.
But, in a letter to landlords on the landlord portal, the DWP announced that the “testing was positive but this remains a complex feature”.
Instead of bulk transfers, the DWP intends to send claimants an action called a ‘To-Do’ via their Universal Credit account called ‘Update Your Housing Costs’.
This will ask for responses to a number of questions to establish whether the rent or service-charge liability has changed.
Depending on the claimant’s response to this, they will then be prompted to declare and confirm their new housing costs, if required.
To mitigate the demand on landlords during this period, DWP will take a risk-based approach and not request verification in every case, hoping this will significantly reduce the number of verification requests landlords receive as a result of the annual rent changes.
The DWP will conduct a one-off exercise to increase the number of claimants matched to landlords on the portal.
This means that, if a rent change requires verification, more will be able to be completed via the portal.