With more than 30 years' experience working in social housing, benefits advice, appeals, and revenues collection, we believe we can greatly assist and support housing associations, councils, private landlords and voluntary sector organisations in their attempts to assist their tenants/clients. Universal Credit is not only a new benefit, but it involves dealing with a DWP administration that operates remotely and often appears quite ambivalent to the problems and harmful effects its poor administration can have on both tenants and landlords. The new scheme is much more complicated and discretionary-based than its predecessors, often denying claimants and landlords the right to challenge disputed awards or refusals to an Independent Tribunal. Instead we're left, on many occasions, with only the DWP's Complaints Process as our means of challenge. Currently, it's not operating to anywhere near its published turnaround times. At the third stage of the process, the complaint is referred to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) but here again, we have to wait 18 months before the complaint is investigated. Using our knowledge and experience in administrative law, we've already secured significant successes on behalf of our clients and, in many cases, their tenants. We see the need for such input rising significantly as DWP expands its rollout to another 6 million claimants in the next few years.
The full range of state welfare benefit changes being introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 will take a number of years to fully roll out. In the case of Universal Credit, the deadline for completion has been put back a number of times and by December 2023 it will have taken 10, rather than 4 years, to complete. Unfortunately, neither The DWP nor HMRC have a good track record of managing and delivering change (e.g. the introduction of Working Tax Credit, the massive problems surrounding the migration from Incapacity Benefit to ESA, and Child Support Agency difficulties).
Universal Credit has, so far, been fraught with problems. The DWP’s performance to date has been poor on a number of fronts, but particularly in relation to Housing Costs. Levels of customer service, accuracy and speed of processing claims and delivery of payments, have caused both tenants and landlords much grief.
Looking ahead to Full Service, Managed Migration, The DWP’s preferred delivery model of web-based claims and call centre back-up is likely to cause major problems, not least for those claimants without access to computer facilities and/or, more importantly, the ability to claim online. There is a common perception among advisers and representatives, that all too often, the DWP’s frontline staff are not sufficiently trained, and often hide behind data protection legislation in an effort to deter access to information about tenant claims and impede and frustrate legitimate challenge. Its insistence of “Explicit Consent” makes communication difficult at times.
Nevertheless, making the most of our knowledge and experience, we believe we can greatly assist and support housing associations, private landlords and voluntary sector organisations in their attempts to negotiate and provide representation on behalf of their clients.
Bill Irvine started his career in accountancy in the private sector. He then moved into local government and studied Public Administration & Administrative Law, specialising in adminstraive tribunals. He quickly became known as an effective Welfare Rights Advocate. Later he became Head of Revenues, Benefits & Advice services at one of the UK’s largest councils. He was COSLA’s representative to the DWP HB Standing Committee, Westminster. He left local Government in 2001 moving back into the private sector as MD of a Credit Management company specialising in the social sector. He did some voluntary Board Membership at SFHA and Trust HA Ltd until in May 2012 he decided to start offering his consultancy services to private and social landlords on a commercial footing.
Bill has been involved in most of the major social security changes since the early 1980s when Housing Benefit was first introduced. As well as offering advice and assistance to landlords, primarily in the RSL/PRS sectors, he also provides representation when disputes can’t be resolved through negotiation and where they have to be progressed through the formal tribunal process, initially to First Tier and, if necessary, through to Upper Tier level where some of his cases have proved to be of national importance to disadvantaged groups.
His features for Your Property Network, UK Landlord, Residential Landlords Association, Property Investor News and SFHA, offer landlords practical advice and assistance and have enabled him to promote his specialist knowledge and advocacy skills to a much wider audience. The Residential Landlords Association direct tenants and their members to seek advice from his website. Members of his website can also access his expertise directly through the discussion forum. Since August 2013 this has been on a commercial basis.
Where mediation/representation (First + Upper-tier Tribunal) is required he normally operates on a No win, No fee, basis, charging between 15% and 25% of the value of any additional sum of HB/LHA awarded or in the amount of HB saved (e.g. overpayments). Otherwise, he will charge on an hourly/daily charge basis.