Benefit claimants' personal data to be shared from February

The government has changed the law to allow the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to share universal credit claimants’ personal data with social landlords, councils and charities.

On Friday, ministers laid down a controversial new statutory instrument to enable councils, housing associations, Citizens Advice bureaux, credit unions and charities to access information on universal credit claimants, so they can offer financial advice and support.

The information that can be shared includes details of debts, benefits, medical records and level of computer literacy.

When the government was consulting on the changes earlier this month, national tenant body the Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisations of England (TAROE) condemned the proposals, saying they went ‘too far’ and were ‘very, very dangerous’.

In its response to the consultation, also published on Friday, the government said it would be pressing ahead its plans, which will come into force on 13 February.

The move is an attempt to allow organisations to provide support to claimants to stop them falling into arrears or struggling with debt.

However, a summary of responses to the consultation from 113 housing associations, advice charities and representative bodies showed 96% of organisations were positive about the government’s proposals.

The consultation paper revealed that the National Housing Federation (NHF) had warned against ‘assuming that social landlords have sole or lead responsibility for supporting tenants’.

‘They think DWP through the agency of Jobcentre Plus has a key role in ensuring that vulnerable tenants have access to personal budgeting support.’

Meanwhile, the government also revealed the areas in the UK next in line to accept claims for universal credit. The flagship benefit payment, which combines a number of benefits into one payment direct to households, has been rolled out in the north west of England. The benefit will be rolled out nationally in four tranches until spring 2016, starting with 150 jobcentres between February and April.

Housing associations and councils have called for more data-sharing with the DWP so that they will know when tenants are claiming universal credit and they can be offered support.