Universal credit and supported housing

Thursday, 28 March 2019 - 12:27pm

John Shortridge, an expert in supported housing, explains how the introduction of Universal Credit will affect Housing Benefit.

On 9th August 2018, the Government announced that all forms of supported housing would continue to be funded by Housing Benefit for the foreseeable future.

Supported housing providers broadly welcomed the Government’s announcement as Housing Benefit is a tried and tested regime and was seen as more likely route to secure long term funding for short-term supported housing and also provide security for those already accommodated.

As Universal Credit full service is rolled out (the process now to be completed by December 2023 according to the latest announcement), supported housing residents must make and manage a Universal Credit claim for their personal needs; as well as submitting claims for housing benefit to cover their core rent and eligible service charges. This arrangement, however, places supported housing providers and their staff in a position where they need an awareness of the key rules and how to claim under both regimes.

In some ways Housing benefit has clear advantages over Universal Credit.

1.         It is not based monthly assessment periods. So Housing Benefit is more suited for covering rent liability for short stays.

2.         The presumption, at least in supported housing, is that any housing benefit award is paid direct to the landlord. At least from the onset, although this has been relaxed over time, the aim was for Universal Credit claimants to pay their landlords themselves.  

3.         Housing benefit is more generous in terms of the service charges covered.

4.         There is no specific provision for supported housing rents in Universal Credit. Something that would seriously impact on most occupants; given that rents are typically more expensive than other forms of tenancy because of higher building, maintenance, and management costs.  From 2014, supported and similar forms of housing (referred to collectively as ‘specified accommodation’) have also been effectively exempt from other welfare reforms, such as the benefit cap and the under occupation rules.

Claimant needs to make a claim for Housing Benefit from the local authority. This involves completing a claim form and providing evidence of income and rent. However, compared to claiming Universal Credit claiming is relatively simple. The claim process for Universal Credit by contrast is complex and requires several steps to be taken within set time limits:

  • firstly, a claim must be made online, then
  • Initial validation is carried out by email,
  • The claim must then be completed and verified. (If verification is not possible online, face-to-face verification must be arranged).
  • Following a successful claim, an initial interview is arranged at the JCP and work capability is assessed. At the interview, the claimant commitment is agreed and signed.
  • For claimants who are too ill to work, there will be a Work Capability Assessment carried out by a contractor.

Given the emphasis on claiming online and using a journal to report changes, Universal Credit generates many barriers; not to just about claiming but also claim management. That said none of the barriers identified seem to exist solely within the supported housing sector, many will also be faced by residents in general needs provision.

An appreciation of all these support needs, however, will need to be considered. Whether this involves attending JCP and issues about getting there; the problems of implicit consent and needing the claimant to be with the support worker when contacting the DWP (which is not a problem for HB), tools to access the internet, the acquiring of an email account, provision of identification, accessing to a bank account and ongoing claim management (which is very much influenced by literacy levels, mental capacity, language fluency, general resilience, etc.).

All this, taken with issues of supporting claimants in the management their money, advising claimants who gain or lose employment whilst in supported housing and helping with existing Universal Credit/Housing Benefit claimants move into the community, means that the course offered could be and essential aid to dealing with a wide number of situations raised by your customers.

On Thursday 16th May in London, we are running a training day for people working in supported accomodation, exploring the key rules for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit and the need to claim housing benefit to cover rent for people living in supported accommodation. The session will also consider how to claim both benefits and the role of support workers in helping to claim these benefits and resolve difficulties that might be encountered with either. 

More information and sign-up here.

Talk To Us

John Shortridge

Homeless Link Associate Trainer

John began delivering training courses in September 1996 drawing on his extensive experience in the advice sector. As the law and policy has changed he has continued to develop the range of housing and benefit courses that he can provide. He prides himself in producing materials that increase the subject knowledge of attendees so that they are better able to promote the best interests of their service users.