North Lanarkshire makes Universal Credit commitment to help tackle arrears
North Lanarkshire Council is to establish a fund to help tenants who find themselves falling into arrears due to a built-in-waiting time for Universal Credit payments to be processed and paid.
The local authority’s communities and housing committee has agreed that a fund will be made available for current tenants struggling to cope with the impact of making a Universal Credit claim or migrating to Universal Credit.
Average rent arrears for tenants on Universal Credit have risen sharply, from £499 in 2014/15 to £705 for 2018/19 and this year’s figure continues to follow the same trend. Total rent arrears for 2018/19 are recorded at over £3 million.
These arrears are known as ‘technical arrears’ - the length of time of the administration process for processing the payment. There is no payment of Universal Credit for one calendar month following the date of the claim plus an additional waiting period of one week after this.
Many tenants who have moved to Universal Credit from housing benefit, which was paid directly to their rent account from the start of their claim, have never experienced rent arrears before and it is difficult for them to understand why they this is happening.
Stephen Llewellyn, head of housing solutions at the council, said: “We fully understand the concerns people have over the implementation of Universal Credit and offer significant support to tenants and low-income families facing the challenges presented by the changes to the benefits system. It’s vital we address this issue from the outset to help tackle the causes of poverty and deprivation and stop people from falling further into arrears.
“We are able to recover the money once our tenant has received their payment, so it’s technically a short-term solution to alleviate the stress and uncertainty they are experiencing when claiming Universal Credit.
“There’s been a higher migration to Universal Credit, greater than anticipated, and this has had an impact on the rent payments being made by tenants - money which is then re-invested in improving tenants’ homes.
“It’s not just financial support we offer. Dedicated income maximisers are located within our rents teams and area housing offices. Our staff work closely with and support tenants with Universal Credit claims and ensure claimants know what they are entitled to.”