Council landlords welcome Scottish Government’s use of new welfare powers

Elaine McHugh
Elaine McHugh

Council housing staff across Scotland have welcomed the news that the Scottish Government will use its new welfare powers to allow the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid directly to landlords and to increase the frequency of payments to claimants.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman made the announcements last week as Holyrood gears up to use its new social security powers for the first time.

According to the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO), the ‘full service’ roll out of Universal Credit has started in East Lothian and just months into the process East Lothian Council has seen a dramatic rise in rent arrears amongst claimants.

Issues have included delays of up to seven weeks to make a first payment, the rent amount being calculated incorrectly and problems in advising the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of a rent rise.

The representative body for local authority housing revealed that other social landlords in the area are facing the same problems whilst private landlords often simply refuse to offer a home to anyone claiming benefit.

Reduced income if rent isn’t paid will also impact on local authorities’ ability to invest in developing new council housing and modernising existing housing stock, it said.

Elaine McHugh, ALACHO chair, added: “This is an important step from the Scottish Government which we welcome. They have listened to evidence gathered by local authorities and others that shows that many tenants claiming Universal Credit already face significant problems meeting their weekly household bills. Paying their housing benefit directly to the landlord will help them manage their finances and reduce the risk of them losing their home.

“Up to half the cost of every new council home is paid for by existing tenants, rising rent arrears threatens our ability to deliver new homes and to meet the Scottish Government’s ambitious house building targets.”

The announcement has also been welcomed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Association (SFHA) and Shelter Scotland.

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