Monday, 08 February 2016

Criticism prompts universal credit changes

The Department for Work and Pensions has re-drafted universal credit regulations in response to sector concerns about service charges.

Rules relating to service charges were rewritten ahead of the publication of universal credit regulations this week. The move comes in the wake of criticism from landlords and the Social Security Advisory Committee over the original wording.

Draft regulations for the new universal credit, which replaces a host of income-related benefits from next October, were published in the summer listing just three categories of eligible charges. This sparked fears that tenants and landlords would be unable to claim benefit for up to 13 charges.

The new draft includes four categories of payments, including payments for the up-keep of communal areas, to maintain a good standard of accommodation, for communal services and for ‘accommodation-specific charges’. The DWP will publish guidance in the next few weeks setting out exactly what charges will be eligible.

Chris Smith, a housing benefit consultant, warned that the regulations were still unclear and that charges used by some associations, such as for concierge and security services, could become ineligible. ‘Some of these charges are so high tenants would not be able to pay them,’ he added.

However, Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said he expects the vast majority of charges will be covered. The DWP said it does not intend to change service charge eligibility.

The government has also changed the wording of regulations relating to benefit for victims of violence who have to leave their home. An earlier version restricted payments to victims of violence by partners or family members, which led to concerns that victims of racist attacks and abuse by non-partners in shared houses could be unable to claim. The revised regulations allow payments to all victims of ‘violence in the home’.

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