Tenants receiving Universal Credit are collectively in £24 million worth of rent arrears, housing associations have warned.
The findings, released by 118 organisations, paint a bleak snapshot of what is happening to social housing tenants across the country on the all-in-one benefit – with many more believed to be struggling financially.
The bodies, which house over 6.9 million people, are pressing for an overhaul of the flagship benefit policy, including scrapping the two child policy where families only receive benefits to cover the cost of their first two children.
According to the surveys, a total of 65 English housing associations revealed that tenants were dealing with £21.6 million of debt .
It follows earlier reports that found just 2 in 10 landlords are willing to let to Universal Credit claimants over ‘delayed payment’ fears – with a fifth of claimants STILL not being paid on time.
The figures top a growing list of Universal Credit failures highlighted by charities and experts over the past few years.
In a damming report, the National Audit Office recently slammed it as slower and costlier than initially promised – while causing hardship for many people.
It said the scheme has not delivered value for money for any of the parties involved.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said The picture the NAO presents is justifiably bleak.
On the ground, new claimants can’t even be sure they will be paid in full and on time, and how many people will be helped into work by the benefit is far from clear.
There are clearly fundamental design and delivery problems which must be fixed but it has also had its funding dramatically reduced so its capacity to deliver on the original aims has been compromised.
While tenants may have existing arrears before moving on to Universal Credit, the survey of English housing associations found that tenants on Universal Credit are more than twice as likely to be in debt compared with other tenants.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Universal Credit tenants are in debt, compared with less than a third (29%) of other tenants.
In Scotland, two-thirds (65%) of Universal Credit tenants are in arrears, compared with just under a third (32%) of other tenants, the housing association surveys found.
More than half (51%) of housing associations in England have reported an increase in food bank vouchers issued to people struggling to pay for food, while 59% reported an increase in demand for welfare advice needed to help tenants stay in their homes.
Universal Credit, which is being phased in gradually, merges six existing benefits, such as housing benefit and income support, into one.
Those representing housing associations said alongside scrapping the two child policy, housing association staff and agencies such as Citizens Advice should be able to sort out problems with Universal Credit as advocates for tenants.
They said this will help solve problems earlier and minimise rent arrears.
They also said that while in some circumstances people’s housing costs can be paid directly to their landlord, this can be unpredictable and landlords should be paid rent at the same time it is deducted from the tenant’s benefit.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said Today’s findings show that the Government urgently needs to fix the fundamental flaws in Universal Credit.
There are some very simple changes they need to make, like ensuring payments are made on time and allowing housing associations to easily negotiate on behalf of vulnerable tenants, so tenants get their money when they need it.
Sally Thomas, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said Housing associations are doing everything they can to support tenants through the system but huge challenges remain.
Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, said As it stands, the system is still not fully fit for purpose.
News Source MirrorNews