This story will give you an idea of some of the reasons why people can end up with rent arrears when they’re trying to set up a Universal Credit claim.
It should also give you an idea why some jobcentre meetings drive me to the brink.
I recently attended a meeting at Croydon jobcentre with a woman who has been trying to sort out the housing component of her Universal Credit claim for several months (I’ve posted a short transcript from the meeting below).
You’ll see from the transcript that the meeting was ludicrous.
The problem was paperwork, as it often is.
The jobcentre had told the woman to bring in her tenancy agreement and bank statements to make her Universal Credit housing component claim. The woman did exactly that. She had all her papers ready to go. We were expecting plain sailing from there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite what we got.
The jobcentre adviser began by accepting the woman’s tenancy agreement and bank statements.
Then, the adviser suddenly decided that the jobcentre couldn’t accept the papers. The whole thing was utterly bizarre.
The problem was that the name of the rent recipient on the bank statements did not match the landlord’s name on the tenancy agreement.
The explanation for this was simple. The names were different because the rent was paid to the letting agent who managed the property for the landlord. The agent’s name appeared on the bank statements. The landlord’s name appeared on the tenancy agreement. This happens from time to time. I’m pretty sure that it’s happened to me in the past. There was another small problem – the agents hadn’t written the monthly rent total on the tenancy agreement.
None of this seemed a major obstacle to start. The jobcentre adviser could see from the bank statements that rent was being paid each month – a point the adviser happily conceded at first.
“I’m going to accept [the bank statements], because you’ve got a standing order… you wouldn’t be paying the money for any other reason.” (The woman who was applying for the housing component has been paying the rent with the help of a friend. That was the only way she could stay housed and avoid arrears. She’d waited weeks for her UC to begin, as people must).
Then suddenly, the adviser decided that the jobcentre wouldn’t accept the papers after all.
“We can’t progress the housing payment until all the documents are in order. They are not in order at the moment.”
“This says…[a different name for the landlord]. No, this is not going to be good enough.”
“I’m really sorry about all of this, but this isn’t ….the details you provide us have to be precise and they have to agree with what’s on here.”
“I’m going to have to make you another appointment.”
On and on it went. Without expecting it, we were stuck in a big bureaucratic mess. There wasn’t any obvious way out. More to the point – the jobcentre showed no inclination to help the woman find a way out. This point can’t be made strongly enough. The DWP demands exact documentation and authorisation and all the rest. The problem is that it provides nothing to help people negotiate the inevitable problems presented by such a bureaucracy. There’s no flexibility or assistance there at all.
I thought, for example that the jobcentre adviser could speak to the letting agent on the phone to to confirm the rent total and they relationship between the agent and the landlord. I even called the letting agent while we were there. No dice. The adviser insisted that the woman bring written evidence of the relationship between the landlord and the letting agent. The adviser also said that this evidence must be presented on headed paper. We pointed out that this would delay the housing component application even further – no laughing matter for people who needed to pay rent. Getting new documents would not be easy. The woman making the housing costs claim had already had a hell of a time with the letting agents. That’s because the letting agents were useless. They hadn’t given the woman a proper copy of her tenancy agreement when she took the flat. Now they’d given her this agreement with no rent total or letting agent name on it. Couldn’t the jobcentre speak to the letting agents directly and allow the woman to drop the right papers in at a later date?
No, the jobcentre couldn’t. We asked again. Round and round we went. Gah.
You see the point I’m making here. There’s no will or system to resolve these things. Advisers and applicants are mired in an inflexible, mistrustful bureaucracy. People are sent back out the door with their benefit applications no further along. They think they brought everything they needed, but find they must source more documents and drum up letters on headed paper.
This was not a good place to be. We sat for ages battling it out.
The weird thing was – we solved this situation by accident. Rifling through the papers in one last desperate attempt to find evidence of the relationship between the tenant and letting agent, we suddenly noticed the document’s file name in faint print at the bottom of the tenancy agreement. By some miracle, that file name included the letting agent’s name. The adviser said that file name proved the relationship between the letting agent and the landlord.
That was a morning none of us will get back.
Some quotes from the meeting…
Adviser: Where does it say how much the rent is?
Applicant: It didn’t say in my tenancy, because my landlord didn’t give it to me…
Adviser: This is a tenancy [agreement], but it doesn’t say … it has to say how much they are charging you…so the deposit was paid… no, I’m going to need something else… there’s nothing on this tenancy agreement that says how much they are charging you.
Me: Can we ring them [the letting agents]?
Applicant: It’s worse that than though… the agency is… but the landlord is [not good].
Adviser: I wonder… I’m going to accept this (the bank statements) because you’ve got a standing order for £_, so although this is very irregular, the fact that you’ve got a standing order of £_ to [the letting agent], you wouldn’t be paying the money for any other reason…
Adviser: This says…[different name for the landlord on the tenancy agreement]… no, this is not going to be good enough.
Me: Can we call them then… they’re really not that great, this agent…
Adviser: Can you get me another copy of the bank statement, because that’s how it’s coming out [complains that the bank statement is printing from the jobcentre’s printer in too small a font size]. Someone’s got to read that. Would your bank give you a….
….I’m really sorry about all of this, but this isn’t ….the details you provide us have to be precise and they have to agree with what’s on here…because we’ve got something…
Me: [I phone the agent’s number] This is ridiculous. This is just not a goer.
Adviser: They need to put that on the tenancy agreement. I’m going to have to make you another appointment. All of this is highly irregular.
Me: Would you like to talk to them [the agents. I hold the phone up for the adviser].
Adviser: Who are you talking to?
Me: This is the agents…
Adviser: But there’s no agent even mentioned on here…
Me: Well, she knows the agent, because that’s the person she’s had to work through. When she wants anything done at the flat, she goes through this agency…is their name anywhere here…?
Adviser: Yes I know, but there’s nothing on the tenancy agreement to say that there’s an agent…
Me: Okay, I’ll just raise that with them…[on the phone]
Adviser: Yes, I’m sorry, but we have to be precise when we’re agreeing this…I’m not going to be able to do this now…if these people can give me receipts…let me just see if there’s any way round it…
Me: We can bring anything in…
Adviser: I can’t get it done today… you need something on here… the landlord, or the agents… you see, there’s no agent’s name on this, so…
Me: So you need a name?
Adviser: Yes, a name on the tenancy agreement of the agent … or a cover letter on headed paper…and something to say how much they are charging….
Me: I’ve had tenancy agreements in the past myself that haven’t had the letting agents…
Adviser: But yeah, we’ve got to have something that says this has something to do with this, because at the moment, there’s no agent’s name on it…and this has no amount, it’s highly unrelated documents…
Me: Is it possible for you to talk to the agency to confirm their relationship if I ring them again, because they just confirmed their relationship then…
Adviser: I need something on headed paperwork…
You get the picture.