ELHA to write off COVID-19 ‘five-week wait’ rent

East Lothian Housing Association (ELHA) has agreed to extend its innovative Assistance Scheme to write off rent during the five-week wait period for new Universal Credit claims for tenants who have a sudden loss of income due to coronavirus.

ELHA’s Assistance Scheme was initially set up to write off the so-called bedroom tax, but once the Scottish Government extended Discretionary Housing Payments to meet these costs for tenants, the Assistance Scheme was amended to help tenants affected by the disregard period, until this approach was withdrawn by the DWP.

Since then, ELHA has introduced rent discounts of up to £20 per month for all tenants through its Key Tenant Scheme, and in 2019, introduced the My New Home service, which in addition offers all new tenants a rent discount equal to their first month’s full rent.

This ensures new tenants claiming Universal Credit for the first time are not left with an immediate tenancy debt because of the five-week wait, and all new tenants start off their tenancy without the pressure of finding their first month’s rental payment up front.

Martin Pollhammer, ELHA chief executive, said: “The range of measures we have put in place over time protects almost all our tenants from the five-week wait, and whilst we are broadly supportive of Universal Credit, there are circumstances in which the five-week wait leaves people with virtually no income, let alone any means to pay their rent, and this cannot be right.

“The coronavirus has brought this into sharp focus, and in cases where our tenants have an immediate loss of income and no means to pay their rent during the five-week wait, our Assistance Scheme offers a way to write that rent off and stop those tenants falling into arrears.

“Our rent collection rates have remained high during the pandemic, in part due to the fantastic efforts of our staff to ensure tenants who have lost income are given the services they need to help claim Universal Credit, but more to our tenants who have continued almost without exception to prioritise their rent payments.”

He added: “This made us feel we have to do our part to help those who genuinely can’t pay their rent because of the impact this virus is having on our economy and on jobs. We are pleased that the Scottish Government has increased Discretionary Housing Payment budgets, but disappointed that those left with no income and a five-week wait cannot access this funding, so we feel we have been left with no choice but to try and right this wrong ourselves.”

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