Headlines: October 13th, 2014

Landlords have welcomed a consultation by the Department for Work and Pensions seeking views on sharing Universal Credit claimant information with social landlords and local authorities.

Allpay, the public sector payment specialist, said that the scheme would help landlords to assess and provide targeted support to their tenants in relation to managing their financial affairs.

Ross Macmillan, Market Intelligence Consultant at allpay, said: “By enabling the DWP to share up-to-date information on who has applied for – or is in receipt of – Universal Credit, housing associations and social landlords can better channel resources towards supporting tenants and residents. The findings from the Government’s Direct Payment Demonstration Projects, which ran between 2012 and 2013, clearly demonstrated that where the direct payment of housing benefit has been implemented, landlords saw the contact that they have with tenants rise considerably as a direct result of the support that was needed.”

Macmillan said that one of the key areas where support was needed was around financial products and payment methods.

He said: “The projects highlighted a lack of awareness and understanding of financial products among social housing tenants, due to a high proportion of tenants preferring to budget and pay bills with cash. We often assume a ubiquitous understanding of banking products and services – such as the difference between a Direct Debit and a debit card – but this is not always the case among lower socio-economic groups,” Macmillan said.

He continued: “Supporting the programme with increased payment choice is critical; and part of that is about landlords making their existing payment channels as clear, simple and attractive to their customers as possible. While the projects have shown that Direct Debit will not necessarily suit everybody’s circumstances, they have shown that where flexibility is offered in terms of frequency, collection date and ease of set up, more tenants are willing to sign up and manage future payments as they have more control over when it’s collected and how often.

“A number of landlords in the demonstration project have been able to support their tenants where this flexibility exists as collection dates can be set up soon after tenants receive their Universal Credit, thus giving the tenant confidence that they have enough in their account to cover the rent collection. The sharing of Universal Credit claimant data will aid this process, reduce the risk of arrears for landlords and will mitigate residents incurring unpaid transaction charges.

“Independent research conducted by allpay last year found that landlords expect to double the number of tenants paying by a Direct Debit between now and 2017, so flexibility, education and support for those using automated payments is essential,” commented Macmillan.

He said that landlords were using innovative ways to provide support to tenants such as the use of automated SMS or email reminders ahead of rent payment dates to ensure that tenants using non-automated payment methods pay on time and prioritise their tenancy.

Macmillan concluded: “The relationship between social landlords and their tenants is evolving. There is some really positive work going on around the country where landlords are supporting their tenants with education, assistance and resources and any plans to aid in this process should be looked at favourably.”