MP brings Universal Credit advice from Westminster to West Dunbartonshire

(from left) Kevin Nixon (area manager), Gillian Robertson, Laura-Anne Hamilton, Samantha King, Geraldine McKenzie, Lisa-Marie Brown, (housing officers), Kim Goode (senior caseworker), Martin Docherty-Hughes MP

West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes joined housing staff from Bellsmyre and Cordale Housing Associations last week to discuss the impending roll out of Universal Credit and the impact it will have on tenants and local constituents.

Universal Credit will be rolled out in West Dunbartonshire in November 2018. Staff from the housing teams at both Cordale and Bellsmyre Housing Associations briefed the MP on the actions they had been taking to reduce the impact on local families.

The Associations’ plans include extensive communication and information for tenants about the roll out of Universal Credit including early intervention with tenants experiencing rent payment problems. Both Associations provide Welfare Benefit Services from their offices delivered in partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau which will continue. In addition the Associations are investing time working closely with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure there are good lines of communications to assist tenants managing their rent affairs.

Mr Docherty-Hughes advised that his team are available to help constituents and partner agencies to address any key concerns they have regarding Universal Claims which have been unable to be resolved through the usual channels. This support was welcomed by the Associations’ housing teams who anticipate that there will be challenges ahead, as experienced in other regions where Universal Credit has already been rolled out.

The key concerns raised by the Associations with Mr Docherty-Hughes included the long periods families were required to go without any benefit payment after submitting a new claim. Both Associations also highlighted the tenancy risks associated with household rental payments being paid direct to claimants who whilst trying to make ends meet, may not have identified their rent as a key priority payment as they may have previously been in receipt of housing benefit being paid direct to their landlord.

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP is also concerned about the impact that families are facing who are in receipt of Universal Credit and where it is having an impact on their financial ability to manage their household budgeting and balancing their household costs in addition to the impact it is having on their wellbeing and housing situation.

Mr Docherty-Hughes said: “With the full roll-out of Universal Credit in West Dunbartonshire fast approaching, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the housing teams at Bellsmyre and Cordale Housing Associations to discuss how this will impact local residents.

“Universal Credit is the UK government’s flagship welfare policy, but as it’s being implemented across the UK we’re seeing increasing evidence of the hardship it’s causing, especially amongst vulnerable claimants. It’s regrettable that the PM hasn’t listened to calls to halt the roll-out - so we must be as prepared as possible.

“As the local MP I will be working closely with local housing associations, advice and welfare agencies across West Dunbartonshire to offer assistance to any residents experiencing difficulties with their benefit entitlement.”

Kevin Nixon, area housing manager for both Cordale and Bellsmyre Housing Associations, said: “We are delighted that Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has taken time out of his busy parliamentary schedule to discuss with us at an operational front line level the issues that our tenants and the Association are expecting as a consequence of the roll out of Universal Credit in our area.

“It is important that there remains focus on these new UK Welfare Reform arrangements by our elected members and that appropriate adjustments to the provisions are considered further as we move forward which helps further mitigate any identified risks to tenants and family wellbeing. As always our focus at both Cordale and Bellsmyre Housing Association is ensuring we do all we can to help our tenants maintain their tenancy to meet our goal of providing homes and services that make life better.”

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