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Universal Credit, Specified Accommodation: Payments from Universal Credit and/or Third Party Deductions for ineligible service charge arrears

VOICES payments from UC
By Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent   The Issue Ineligible service charges are those not covered by Housing Benefit.  Previously, supported and temporary accommodation providers could apply to have these paid from a customer’s legacy benefit where a resident was at risk of arrears or, already in arrears.  This system was not perfect and was subject to delays but, it did mean that the person would not be evicted due to service charge arrears, it avoided the need for cash handling and, it allowed focus on support. Supported and Temporary Housing providers have been told by the DWP that UC regulations do not allow payments to be made from a person’s UC for these ineligible charges. “Arrears of service charges can be requested from Universal Credit via a Third Party Deduction (if customer is still living in the property). Unlike legacy benefits there is currently no way of service charges (non-arrears) being deducted from UC.“  (Local DWP Homelessness Forum update August 2019) This mistaken understanding of the legislation will undoubtedly increase the level of evictions for people who are experiencing multiple and complex needs and who are already socially marginalised.  In January 2019 the UK Government’s official statistics found that the number of… Continue Reading

Deductions from Universal Credit (UC)

VOICES UC deductions
By Julie Holdcroft, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Money can be taken from your UC when there’s no other way for you to repay debts for things like rent, gas, electricity, water and council tax.  Your UC can be further reduced if you owe money for things such as an Advance Payment, Sanctions, or a Benefit overpayment. Many people with multiple and complex needs find that they are having the maximum amount deducted from their UC.  Freedom of Information data shows that over 60% of UC claimants are having their benefit cut to pay off debts and loans, including Advance Payments and, 25% of UC claimants are in problem debt compounded by excessive deductions from their benefit, according to the debt charity StepChange. In October 2019, the overall maximum percentage rate for all debts and deductions that can be taken from a UC payment was reduced from 40% to 30% of the claimant’s UC standard allowance. However there are two exceptions to this rule: Last Resort Deductions (arrears of housing and fuel), and ongoing monthly costs for utilities (gas, electricity and water) where there are also arrears being taken for them. A maximum of 3 deductions can be made at one time.   Financial Hardship If… Continue Reading

Working While Living in Supported Housing

VOICES Working in Supported Housing
By Julie Holdcroft, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Supported Housing provides temporary accommodation, ususally for up to 2 years, to support people who need help to find or manage a home. Support Workers work closely with customers to prepare them to move into independent living by supporting them to manage their tenancy, develop their skills and to take up training and work opportunities.   Many people in Supported Housing are on Universal Credit and can have ‘Claimant Commitments’ which require them to look for full time work. However working full time and living in supported housing can incur high costs for the customer. Supported Housing is partly funded by additional support costs added on to the rent which are covered by Housing Benefit. Supported accommodation is deemed ‘exempt accomodation’ and is still covered by Housing Benefit rather than the Housing Costs Element of UC. When support costs are added into the rent,  housing costs can be up to £200+ p/wk for shared or single accomodation. Customers in shared accommodation have a service charge to pay of around £15 p/wk which covers the utlity bills. Customer in single accommodation pay their own bills including Council Tax. As long as a claimant recieves some UC… Continue Reading

Alternatives for Universal Credit claimants with limited access to bank accounts

VOICES uc payment alternatives V2
By Lisa Kearns, Welfare Benefits Caseworker, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent   What is the problem? Currently Universal Credit does not allow claims to be made with no bank account. This is causing difficulties for people without their own bank account. DWP are recommending that claimants with no bank account and who are unable to open their own account, can use a trusted third party account to enable them to make a claim. This third party then becomes responsible for ‘issuing’ money on payday, and often faces no repercussions if this money does not reach the intended claimant. Claimants can also find that they lose contact with the person who is receiving their money, and are therefore unable to receive ongoing payments without updating their claim with someone else’s account.   What can we do? The Jobcentre have access to different routes to pay a claimant if they have no bank account, including opening a Post Office account and the Payment Exception Service (PES) (previously Simple Payments). We have found that frontline Jobcentre staff and UC helpline agents are mostly unaware of the PES and deny its existence. They also often signpost to the Post Office regarding opening accounts, who are unable to help.   What is the Payment Exception… Continue Reading

Universal Credit: Complex Needs Alerts

VOICES complex needs alert
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Welfare Benefits Team, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent   Navigating the intricacies of the Welfare Benefits system can be daunting.  Making a new claim for benefit is just the start.  It is important then, that we alert the DWP to anything that will prevent our customers from managing and maintaining their claim, sooner rather than later.  Especially so with the introduction of Universal Credit and ‘digital by default’.   If we are supporting people experiencing multiple and complex needs with their benefit issues, we need to understand that the DWP definition of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘complex needs’ may not be the same as our own.   The DWP definition of vulnerability is “An individual; who is identified as having complex needs and/or requires additional support to enable them to access DWP benefits and use our services.” Its aim is to provide a service that is, “equal in quality and outcome to those whose needs are not complex”.   Its definition of complex needs for Universal Credit purposes is that “the claimant may need additional or different support if it is likely that they will have difficulty:   Accessing UC Proving eligibility for UC Fulfilling the Labour Market requirements Maintaining their UC account or,Continue Reading

Universal Credit – Making a new claim

VOICES audio case study
VOICES service coordinator Anna Mather asks her customer how they found the process of making a fresh claim for Universal Credit.  … Continue Reading

Universal Credit – A housing providers perspective

VOICES audio case study
VOICES Communications officer Dean Spruce speaks to a local supported housing provider to get their perspective on Universal Credit    … Continue Reading

Universal Credit: Applying for alternative payment arrangements

VOICES case study 7
Following the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), standard practice is to pay claimants their benefit once a month, compared to the old-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), where claimants were paid on a fortnightly basis. According to the Gov.uk website, ‘you can claim UC if you have a health condition or disability which prevents you from working or limits the amount of work you can do. UC provides you with a simple system of financial and work-related support’. However, a case of a gentleman I supported to claim UC found managing his UC payments extremely difficult, mainly due to his lack of insight into budgeting his money and his struggles with accessing his online account. After getting his payment, the customer would use this to top up his pre-payment utilities. However, after a few days, the customer was left with no money to fund his pre-payment utilities, so he was left without electricity or gas for weeks, until his next payment. The gentleman had been used to being paid fortnightly and has never had any budgeting support throughout his life, and also has poor tenancy management skills due to his needs.   Alternative payment arrangements (APA’s)- These exist to help those at… Continue Reading

Universal Credit and Universal Credit Housing Costs: Prisoners

VOICES UC and prisoners
By Karen Dunn, Specialist benefits advisor, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent In this months installment from our resident benefits expert, Karen looks at the most up to date definitions and information around how prison sentences can affect Universal Credit claims and claimants. Prisoners For Universal Credit (UC) you are counted as a prisoner if you are: Detained in custody – whether pending trial, pending sentence, on conviction, or sentenced by a court; or On temporary release (home leave or release on temporary licence).   You cannot get UC standard allowance if you are a prisoner or a hospital detainee.   You can continue to get UC housing costs for the first 6 months if: You are single and were entitled to UC immediately before you became a prisoner; and The calculation of that award of UC included a UC housing costs element; and You have not been sentenced, or have been sentenced to a term that is not expected to exceed 6 months.   You do not count as a ‘prisoner’ for UC housing costs if you are detained in hospital (therefore if UC housing costs is in place when detained in hospital this will not be affected and will remain in pay)   Once you are… Continue Reading

Welfare Benefits – Hints and Tips: Help to Save Account

VOICES help to save account
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Welfare Advisor, SNSCAB & Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager, VOICES   Help to Save is a new savings scheme for people on low incomes who are claiming certain benefits. Help to Save gives you a bonus payment from the government of up to 50% (half) on savings paid into the account.   How it works Help to Save is a type of savings account. It allows certain people entitled to Working Tax Credit or receiving Universal Credit to get a bonus of 50p for every £1 they save over 4 years. You get bonuses at the end of the second and fourth years. They’re based on how much you’ve saved. You can save up to £50 each calendar month. Help to Save is backed by the government so all savings in the scheme are secure.   What You Need to Apply Government Gateway User ID and password Details of your UK bank account.   Eligibility:  You can open a Help to Save Account if you are: entitled to Working Tax Credit and receiving Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit payments claiming Universal Credit and your household income in your last monthly assessment period was £542.88* or more living in the UK:  if… Continue Reading

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