Posted: Thu 24th Oct 2013

Poor communication from the Department for Work and Pensions, via the “flagship” welfare reform trials

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Oct 24th, 2013

Landlords in the North West are complaining about poor communication from the Department for Work and Pensions, via the “flagship” welfare reform trials.
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Welfare reform, via Universal Credit , is currently being trialled in Ashton-under-Lyne, Wigan, Warrington and Oldham – where benefits are merged into a single payment made direct to the claimant.

Many landlords within the pathfinder areas have aired their concerns that they have found communication with the DWP difficult and have had problems persuading them to switch the housing costs part of Universal Credit for tenants in arrears to the landlord.

Although, in April 2013 a circular was published by the DWP that stated claimants on the pathfinders with two months of arrears would have the housing costs element of their payments switched back automatically to the social landlord.

Peter Fitzhenry, director of housing management at 8,700-home Golden Gates Housing Trust in Warrington, said the association is aware that 12 of its tenants are claiming universal credit.

He said of these, the association has made six requests for ‘switchbacks’ due to tenants being in rent arrears, of which three have been granted and three decisions have yet to be made. Mr Fitzhenry said GGHT has had difficulties speaking to the relevant people at the DWP and has had to wait for more than two weeks for decisions to be made.

He added there was no way of knowing if tenants are claiming universal credit, and may be at increased risk of arrears, or at risk of benefit being stopped. ‘There is no system in place,’ he said.

Tony Powell, executive director of neighbourhoods at New Charter Housing Trust in Tameside, told a conference last month he is aware of 15 New Charter tenants claiming universal credit, and the landlord has requested six switchbacks. He said communication is ‘very poor’.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: ‘The pathfinders ran early to test many elements – so they do not reflect how universal credit will be in practice.

The results of the North West pathfinders have not been released.

Six more areas, Hammersmith in London, Inverness, Rugby, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton will be moved onto UC between October and the spring of 2014.

Originally the national launch of Universal Credit was meant to be rolled out this month but had to be abandoned, raising criticisms that the scheme is in crisis and that the IT side needed for it is not ready.

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