Six pilot projects are running to test how the new process will work, where direct payment of benefit will be paid to tenants instead of to landlords. The DWP had originally intended to publish the data collected from the pilots this week.
The housing associations and councils will be sending the direct payments to around 12,000, but instead of publishing the full results, the DWP has given the results of a 1,639 tenant baseline survey which was carried out before the pilots started.
The full results are now not going to be released until next year, which will leave minimal time for the landlords to see what the best way to alter to the change will be before the new system is in place, which was the intent of the early pilot results.
Keith Exford, chief executive of Affinity Sutton, said early evidence of how direct payment works in practice would help landlords that are concerned about how they will mitigate its impact:
There would be little point in having these projects if we are not provided with the results of how these are working in practice.
A DWP spokesperson has said the reason for the change of plans is the department wants to ensure information is ‘robust’ before publishing.
The DWP has also been criticised this week by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, following the released of a report on the reform. The report said that reforms are placing additional administrative burdens on local authorities and could lead to risks for effective implementation.
Ms Hodge has said that the department’s reforms would cut payments to around 2 million of the poorest households:
Significant administrative responsibilities have been lumped on local authorities, who are already suffering from cuts to their own budgets.
There is a real risk of increased homelessness, which on top of the human cost will simply transfer costs to other public services.
Cuts in payments will add uncertainty and increased hardship to the lives of individuals who are already struggling to get by.
The National Audit Office report predicts that the extra burden will mostly come from increasing numbers of notifications about claimants’ circumstance changes, as the 20 million notifications presently issued each year will increase under the reforms.
The auditors have also warned that there may be problems with the discretionary housing payment regime, which is a hardship fund which councils can use to help housing benefit recipients who are struggling to pay their rent.
It is not clear how the overall level of funding has been determined or whether it is likely to be sufficient to tackle the effects of the reforms.
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
Our reforms restore fairness to a system that was left to spiral out of control [and] will ensure that people on benefits can no longer live in expensive areas that working families not on benefits couldn’t afford.
We are providing an additional discretionary fund of £190 million to help families in difficult situations. Our reforms restore fairness to a system that was left to spiral out of control.