The Government first announced plans for a shared ownership right to buy in October 2019. At the time the sector raised concerns about the impact the plans would have on housing associations ability to borrow. An election and a pandemic later the Government announced, during the CIH Housing Festival last week, the return of the right to shared ownership as part of its Affordable Homes Programme (AHP).
Under Universal Credit, the default position for claimants is that they will receive their benefit payment award monthly in arrears plus one lump sum payment. Prior to this claimants would receive separate payments for the different benefit claims that they had ongoing and the payment frequency ranged from weekly, fortnightly and four weekly depending on the benefit they claimed.
Housing benefit could also be paid directly to the landlord if the claimant requested, regardless of whether the account was in arrears or not.
As you will no doubt be aware, the change from several payments to one single payment is highlighted as a concern by welfare right groups, citing that it will lead to budgeting problems for the benefit claimant, especially if there are delays in the payment. For those benefit claimants that specifically struggle to budget or are in rent arrears, the DWP has issued guidance on APAs that can be used to assist those specific claimants.
How does an APA work?
For those claimants that need additional support, an APA could be by way of either:
- Paying housing element of Universal Credit direct to the landlord;
- Payments that are more frequent than monthly; and/or
- Payment of benefit award that is split between joint claimants, depending on their circumstances.
Granting an APA is a discretionary power and, as long as the DWP follows its internal guidance and complies with human rights and equality law, there is no right of appeal to the decision (however, there is scope to request a review of the decision). This will mean that any decision can only be challengeable by way of judicial review.
When will an APA be granted?
The DWP guidance stresses that the award of an APA should only be made to claimants who cannot manage the monthly payment and, as a result, risk financial harm to themselves and/or their family. Applications are based on an individual claimant’s circumstances.
The guidance has set several factors or ‘triggers’ for when an APA should be considered and the likelihood of the need of an APA based on which trigger takes effect. There are two tiers:
- Tier One – Highly likely/probable need for APA
These include drug/alcohol problems, learning difficulties, mental health conditions, multiple debts, homelessness, domestic abuse and rent arrears.
- Tier Two – Less likely/possible need for APA
These include historic rent arrears, the claimant leaving prison or hospital, recent bereavement, and language skills.
The difference between the two tiers is the likelihood and probable need for an APA. The DWP would need to take into account the client circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Several tier-two factors might lead to an APA whereas just one might not be enough, depending on the particular circumstances.
Direct payments to landlords
The housing element of Universal Credit payable to the landlord is considered the highest priority to ensure that the claimant’s home is secure when an APA is requested.
APA payments made directly to the landlord as a managed payment can be requested by the claimant completing form UC129, or by the landlord by completing form UC47 (depending on whether as a landlord you have a secure or non-secure email address, the form slightly differs as does the information requested).
The landlord can request an APA when the benefit claimant is in arrears equal to or more than two months of their rent or if the benefit claimant continually underpays their rent over a period of time and arrears accrue to more than a month’s rent. The landlord would need to provide proof and a breakdown of the arrears.
Length of APA
APA payments are not seen as long-term and will continually be reviewed by the DWP. It may be decided that after a period of time the benefit claimant’s payments are returned to a single payment including the housing element, and they will have to make payments themselves.
For more information
For more details or advice on alternate payment arrangements, please contact Zishaan Saleem.
Two final pieces of the possession jigsaw have been published on 15 September 2020. Mr Justice Knowles’ working group on possession proceedings has issued its guidance on the “overall arrangements” for possession proceedings.
One change proposed by the Building Safety Bill is the introduction of a duty holder regime, which will see statutory responsibility for the safety of higher risk buildings placed on key individuals
Throughout this pandemic, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been publishing various “Statements on Coronavirus” (Statements) which provide guidance on consumer rights during this time.
A recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the UK means new measures are being put in place in an effort to reduce the risk of a second wave. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, it is important to remain focused on the sector’s road to recovery.
Sometimes half an hour at a conference gives you the reality that has been staring you in the face all along. That was my experience watching “Change is on the Horizon”
Following our recent e-briefing on Possession Notices, Helen Tucker and Emilie Pownall from our housing litigation team discuss the impact of the changes on social landlords.
Not only has the possession stay been extended until 20 September, the notice periods to be given to tenants has been extended in certain circumstances with some important exceptions.
The Court has confirmed that a party cannot withhold its consent in order to re-write the original bargain.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, building safety continues to be a key concern for social housing providers and their residents.
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