Pensioners and Housing costs

DWP has today confirmed what has been expected has some time now…that HB will need to continue for some years now. With one and a half million pensioners in receipt of HB, there seems no real point in including HB in Universal Credit.

Dear Local Authority Chief Executives,
As part of the Budget 2013, the Chancellor announced that the introduction of the new single-tier pension will be brought forward from 2017 to 2016, and the Pensions Bill which will deliver this reform is now making its way through Parliament. We have been working through the implications of this, and the Spending Review, on wider Department for Work and Pensions reform.
As a result of this change in implementation date, we have put on hold plans to deliver the housing credit element of Pension Credit to enable the Department to focus resources on successful delivery of the single-tier pension for new pensioners from April 2016. Current arrangements of rental support for pensioners via the Housing Benefit scheme will therefore need to remain in place until at least the financial year 2017/18. This will be reflected in future funding as appropriate. 
We will consult with your Local Authorities Associations and other key stakeholders on revised plans for reform as they are developed.

(click here for pdf version

Readers will notice the “until at least” in this note.

The implications for local authority Housing Benefit services are significant. Up to a million and a half claimants are affected. With an ageing population and growing life expectancy, the number of those of pensionable age claiming Housing Benefit is likely to increase over the next few years. All those contracts (staffing, software, accommodation and so on) that are due to end may now need to be renegotiated.

Readers may also be thinking what is now the point of moving Housing Benefit for working age? What indeed. Council Tax Benefit was always supposed to be included within UC. That never happened. Then there are other temporary accommodation costs that are staying, DHP’s…..

The Universal Credit project is expected to be reviewed by the end of this year. Ministers must decide whether to start the project again or plough on with the current IT that almost all agree is not fit for purpose. hbinfo understands that one option that is gaining in popularity is to drop tenant housing costs until the project is running smoothly. That may take many years.

Local Authority staff still need to know the UC rules in detail of course; to be able to assess HB and Council Tax Support claims.

DWP cannot be blamed for being enthusiastic about the prospects for the UC project when it was first announced. It has and had all party political support. But the fact is and for whatever reasons, they have not yet been able to deliver. Local Authorities in particular have rather been abandoned by these sudden “oh by the way” announcements that affect millions of claimants and thousands of staff. Housing Benefit administration cannot be “switched on” again just because one part of DWP changes its mind.