Living Rent begins campaign against Universal Credit evictions
Tenants’ union Living Rent has called on housing associations in Glasgow to commit to no evictions stemming from debts caused by Universal Credit.
The union has delivered a letter to GHA and a number of other city housing associations asking for a ‘No Evictions’ policy with regards to rent arrears caused by the benefit.
Living Rent said the highly controversial new benefits system, which has been linked to an increase in poverty, will disproportionately affect tenants due to payment complications that will lead to increasing rent arrears, evictions, destitution, and homelessness.
Last year, research from four UK Housing Association Federations showed that nearly 73% of tenants claiming Universal Credit are in debt, compared with 29% of all other tenants.
In a recent survey, Unite the Union found 70% of Universal Credit claimants had skipped meals and 42% had been forced to use food banks as a result of claiming the benefit.
Housing associations have previously been critical of Universal Credit, with Martin Armstrong, CEO of Wheatley Group, writing that “[Universal Credit] has left thousands of vulnerable people and families not just worse off, but confused and distressed as they struggle to cope with the every-day demands of life”.
In 2012, Armstrong negotiated a delay in the Glasgow roll out of Universal Credit with Iain Duncan Smith, then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2010-2016 and chief architect of Universal Credit.
Living Rent member James Roberts said: “Living Rent wholly agrees with Martin Armstrong’s damning assessment of the system and applauds his past advocacy on behalf of tenant claimants.
“But today we’re asking GHA and other housing associations to build on this strong position by joining us in creating a partnership that opposes Universal Credit arrears and evictions, protects vulnerable tenants from further personal suffering, and defends communities from the devastation of poverty and homelessness that is exacerbated by Universal Credit.”
In their letter to housing associations, Living Rent expressed its awareness of the detrimental effect Universal Credit has had on housing associations’ receipt of the housing benefit and their relationship with tenants. However, it is calling on housing associations to publicly “commit to not carrying out any evictions for arrears arising from Universal Credit,” assuring Living Rent and tenants across the city safety from homelessness and destitution.
David Bookbinder, director at Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF), told Scottish Housing News that arrears from Universal Credit delays alone would unlikely lead to an eviction.
He said: “GWSF shares Living Rent’s concerns about how unfair Universal Credit is, especially in terms of the long delay people normally face before any money comes through.
“However, arrears caused by this initial delay will never, on their own, lead to a housing association even seeking repossession, let alone being granted it by a court. Evictions are a last resort and normally involve thousands of pounds of arrears, usually accumulated through lack of engagement with the association over a long period.”
Mr Bookbinder added: “Universal Credit is a deeply flawed system, but no-one with £3,000 rent arrears will ever be able to blame that on Universal Credit alone, so a prohibition on ‘Universal Credit evictions’ would just mean other tenants covering the debts of a small minority of people failing to properly engage with their landlord.”