Committee report echoes SFHA worries over Universal Credit

Sally Thomas

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has said that a House of Commons committee’s report into the “unacceptable” hardship caused by Universal Credit echoes many of its own concerns with the policy.

A report from the public accounts committee concluded that the implementation of Universal Credit is “causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations and that it refuses to measure what it does not want to see”.

The committee went as far as to call out the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for having a “dismissive attitude” to the concerns of frontline organisations.

While the SFHA said it has seen evidence of changes to help with the implementation, it called on the DWP to go much further to avoid causing “further significant harm”.

Sally Thomas, SFHA chief executive, said: “I may not go so far as the claim by Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, when she says of the DWP that it has an ‘apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of….frontline organisations’, as the SFHA has seen positive and welcome moves from the Department such as the development of a landlord portal system and scrapping of the seven day wait before a claim can be made; the enthusiasm and commitment of staff in local Job Centres to support claimants into work is also to be commended.

“But the Job Centres have no influence over the operation of Universal Credit payments. The reliance of the DWP’s direct payments to landlords on a four weekly system that was not designed for monthly Universal Credit payments puts an incredible and unnecessary burden on housing associations’ rent management which also denies claimants the comfort of being secure in the knowledge that their rent has been paid.

“The SFHA along with housing federations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have set out five key changes that need to be made to enable Universal Credit to work both for claimants and stakeholders. We would urge the DWP to heed these asks and implement the changes to prevent further significant harm.”

The Four Federations’ Five Asks are:

  • The granting of implicit consent, that exists with legacy benefits, which enables support workers to intercede on behalf of claimants
  • The provision of a third party payment system that is coordinated with the Universal Credit payment system to individual claimants and the enhancement of the landlord portal to provide information automatically that landlords can request now, but have to make individual approaches for, namely start dates housing payments, the date of payment and the amount that will be paid.
  • The reform of Universal Support Delivered locally so that claimants can get all the help they need to make and to maintain their claim
  • The restoration of in-work allowances that were cut by the Chancellor in the 2015 autumn statement
  • The removal of the two child limit and the lower benefit cap.
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