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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Making adjustments to Universal Credit digital process

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The “digital by default” nature of Universal Credit is supposed to make it easier for people to notify the Department of changes in circumstances which will affect their claims. Most people will find it pretty easy to notify Universal Credit of a rent increase. It’s simply a matter of logging in and making an adjustment to the housing costs section of their account. However, it’s not such a simple process for people in custody who do not have access to the internet.

Universal Credit for prisoners

Prisoners are not entitled to claim Universal Credit. However, if a person is already in receipt of Universal Credit at the time they are taken into custody, payment of the housing costs element of this benefit can continue as long as that person isn’t going to be in custody for longer than 6 months.

Earlier this year, through our work within the prisons service, our advisers were notified of difficulties prisoners were experiencing in keeping their housing costs element up to date. Housing Associations routinely apply a percentage increase to rents in April of each year. This increase is usually notified to tenants in writing.

Difficulties notifying rent increases while in custody

One of our advisers in HMP Magilligan was assisting Jerome, a 29-year-old serving a short custodial sentence. Jerome is a tenant of Radius Housing Association and our adviser was working with Jerome to ensure that his rent continued to be paid while he was in custody and to try to resolve some other housing issues. Staff at Radius explained that Jerome’s rent was scheduled to increase and that he was required to update his Universal Credit journal with the new rent figure.

Aware that Jerome would have no way of accessing his journal while in custody, our adviser contacted the Universal Credit customer service team to see what, if any arrangements had been put in place for prisoners. Initially, there were concerns about any other person auctioning a change on the claimant’s behalf. An agreement was reached that would allow claimants to make changes to their claim by telephoning the UC Service Centre as long as they claimant confirms that they consent to the case manager making this change to the account.  

The Department confirmed that all Service Centres would be updated with details of the new process, greatly reducing the risk of rent arrears occurring amongst tenants in custody.

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