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Leaseholder and Tenant Service Charges Conference Plenary one: Can you future proof your systems to deal with Universal Credit and benefit changes? Speaker:
Christian Woodhead Assistant Director of Customer and Neighbourhood Services, East Thames Housing Group
Steve Michaux Group Director of Leasehold Services A2 Dominion Housing Group
Plenary One: Can you future proof your systems to deal with Universal Credit and benefit changes? Chris Woodhead East Thames Group
29-35 WEST HAM LANE STRATFORD LONDON E15 4PH SWITCHBOARD: 020 8522 2000 MINICOM: 020 8522 2006 FAX: 020 8522 2001 WWW.EAST-THAMES.CO.UK
…UC is all about direct payment to residents
…Residents will need to declare their eligible charges …So communication with the customer is key
Why are we interested in: Background...
• • • •
June 2012 DWP issues draft regs supporting the Welfare Reform Act WRA introduces UC Draft guidance issued Dec 2012 Final draft guidance April 2013 When finally introduced the “housing element” of UC will replace housing benefit
• • •
Benefit changes mean less cash coming in Must maximise all income sources Leaseholders affected by the downturn too!! Sub-letting poses real issues... What is the economic status of the sub-lessees?
Question Three: Can you future proof your systems to deal with Universal Credit and benefit changes?
…but for some good reasons that we will look at now…
Question Four: What are the potential pitfalls in getting service charges passed by HB departments? DWP: The service charges decision making process has three steps…
1. Landlord determines which service charges are eligible, (see categories) and notifies the tenant of the amount –
Challenge: determining eligibility and ensuring that resident understands (B2)
2. The eligible amount is input (by the tenant or DWP) as part of the UC claim –
Challenge: giving information in a format that the resident can use
3. DWP pays the full eligible amount as part of the Universal Credit payment –
Challenge: but what if they don’t…?
Design them out where possible! (B1)
The UC process for identifying eligible costs... ...all four must be met!!!
Category A - Payments to maintain the general standard of the accommodation
What will be regarded as excessive?
Category B - Payments for the general upkeep of areas of communal use
DWP can refer case for independent consideration.
Category C - Payments in respect of basic communal services Category D – Accommodation-specific charges
The independent assessor will compare actual costs with similar buildings and tenancies within the same local authority area
Changes in Regulations: The long list of ineligibles... (Supported Housing? Breakout P2 looks at these)
• • • • •
Living expenses (heating, lighting, hot water or meals);
Personal services (laundry/cleaning); Nursing/personal care services (hygiene, eating, dressing etc.);
Personal emergency alarms; Counselling/medical/support services and expenses; Transport; Installation/maintenance/repair of aids and adaptations;
• • • •
Subscription television; Communal social/recreational areas (gyms, bars, shops, hairdressers, internet rooms, restaurants, cafés etc.);
Gardening for individual gardens; Water, sewerage and utility charges (excepting communals); Arrears of service charges owed by the tenant due to non payment these.
Question 5: What about helping people to help themselves? • Residents to register increases • Information currently given on paper… time for cut'n'paste? • In kind incentives? • …but discounts problematic • Services and their charges are suddenly visible! • Resident understanding empowers challenge... • Beyond FAQs to a service charge guide?
Question 6: Have YOU had a chance to study the form? …the format of the UC
application will evolve!
Q7: Can (or will)
people embrace the tech? Collection depends upon client ability to: – – – –
understand charges access a device complete online form demonstrate eligibility
Question 8: Spending resource we can’t recoup?
• • • • •
Failure to ensure charges are eligible before billing means residents may pay charges they cannot recoup Appeals as residents say ‘ineligibles’ should be ‘eligible’? Increased focus on costs by tenants? Increased arrears as UC will not cover costs If services need to be cut… …how will the choice be made?
Question 10: What can we say in summary? Not sure systems can be future-proofed but we can… Avoid pitfalls…
• • • • • • •
A return to fixed service charges...? Breakout P3 Keep up to date with regulations Allocate costs carefully and calculate the in/eligible charges Make charges clear and offer VfM? Benchmark with other local providers Keep customers informed and consult over the options available Keep staff informed Ensure the information we provide satisfies the requirements of the UC guidance
• • •
Deliver information that is clear and transferrable Make computers available at schemes, surgeries and offices Build in staff capacity to assist claimants Prepare a service charge guide / thorough FAQs Consider incentives in kind Keep enquiries to a minimum