Universal Credit flexibility plans welcomed
Last week’s announcement that tenants will have the choice of having the housing element of Universal Credit payments made directly to their housing associations and co-operatives has been welcomed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Association (SFHA) and Shelter Scotland.
The direct payment option, which will also be offered to tenants in the private rented sector, was revealed by social security minister Jeane Freeman as the Scottish Government plans to use its new social security powers for the first time.
Ministers will also use new powers to give claimants the option to be paid fortnightly instead of monthly.
New applicants who live in the Universal Credit Full Service areas – local authority areas where a digital claiming system has been established by the UK government – will be given the option of twice-monthly payments instead of the current monthly payment system deployed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Mary Taylor, chief executive of the SFHA, said the organisation had long campaigned for these changes.
Ms Taylor said: “Even before our involvement in the Smith Commission Stakeholder Group, we had been campaigning for the housing element of Universal Credit to be able to be paid directly to our members, as has been the case with Housing Benefit. We welcome that the Scottish Government has prioritised introducing this flexibility as well as the ability to vary the frequency of payments as these measures should help to ease the financial pressure on tenants.
“Our members house some of Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable people – most of whom are eligible for support with their housing costs. Direct payments to landlords and more frequent payments should help to ensure that tenants who choose these options can be more financially secure and able to sustain their tenancy.
“Our members will also benefit from these flexibilities as rent makes up the majority of housing associations’ income and is therefore vital in order for them to operate. Any reduction in rental income seriously threatens their ability to provide affordable housing and services.
“Together with our members, we stand ready to work with the Scottish Government and others to shape Scotland’s new social security system and ensure that the most vulnerable people in our country are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.”
Housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland described the proposals as “sensible” and “helpful”.
Director Graeme Brown said: “It’s welcome news that both social renters and private renters will have the option of having the housing support element of Universal Credit paid directly to their landlords. This is a more sensible, personalised approach than the current one-size-fits-all approach.
“The idea of bi-monthly payments instead of monthly is also a helpful move forward. The key now is to ensure a smooth transition to a system that delivers payments without delays.”
Graeme Brown added: “Changes to social security in Scotland should have dignity and fairness at their heart and be aimed at truly helping vulnerable people or people on low incomes have a decent standard of living and helping them keep a safe, secure home over their head without the fear of sanctions, arrears, eviction and homelessness.
“The new powers also represent an opportunity to change the language used in welfare in order to reduce the stigma associated with claiming welfare – words such as ‘allowances’ and ‘entitlements’ would possibly encourage more people to apply for help who otherwise may be put off by the stigma of words like benefits.”