Universal credit seekers urged to repay thousands of dollars in DWP crackdown
Universal Credit (UC) applicants could be asked to repay thousands of pounds in payments made since the start of the pandemic, according to reports.
A crackdown by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on universal credit could affect private tenants in precarious living situations, with some being asked to pay back more than £ 5,000.
After the initial coronavirus lockdown began in March last year, the government suspended full UC checks due to national restrictions.
However, according to the i, the DWP would now be reconsidering the applications it approved during this timeframe, resulting in huge bills for some hapless applicants who are already struggling after a difficult year.
Read more: DWP benefit claimants could get £ 1,040 refund in legal battle for weekly boost of £ 20
The number of universal credit applicants more than doubled between February 2020 and February 2021, from 749,000 to 1,549,000, according to DWP data.
Some fear that tenants living in a ‘ghost’ part of the UK rental sector may be forced to repay part of their debts due to a lack of legal clarity about their living situation.
This sector mainly consists of legal sublets in which low-income and vulnerable tenants or people unfamiliar with the law enter into informal and illegal agreements with their landlords.
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Tina, a woman living in one of these illegal roommates, said she started claiming universal credit in March 2020 after losing her job.
She said the DWP asked her for verification details, including her name, national insurance number, address and date of birth – but had not investigated her living conditions or to see a contract of rental.
In May this year, Tina learned that the housing component of her universal loan was being removed and that she would have to pay back more than £ 5,000 as she did not have a formal rental agreement.
The DWP is reviewing the claim of Tina and others who “lacked the usual verification process” due to the coronavirus restrictions.
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A spokesperson told i that she “did not say she was subletting without a rental agreement” when she applied, which would make her ineligible for the housing component of universal credit.
He added: “This means she received money she was never entitled to, and we are looking to correct that while providing support to ensure that repayments are affordable.”
It is impossible to know how many private tenants do not have rental contracts because the “shadow rental” industry is notoriously difficult to collect data.
Tina has requested a review of the DWP’s decision, which was denied, and she is now considering appealing.