SFHA lambasts continued roll-out of ‘catastrophic’ Universal Credit

Sally Thomas
Sally Thomas

The continued roll-out of Universal Credit will have “catastrophic consequences” for some of the most vulnerable in society as well as undermine the sustainability of housing associations, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has said.

The warning came ahead of a Members’ Debate in the Scottish Parliament today supporting Citizens Advice Scotland’s call to stop the accelerated rollout of the vital social security payment.

Universal Credit, replaces six existing benefits with one, and is designed to make the benefits process easier. The UK government has been rolling it out gradually, testing it in selected areas, but an ‘accelerated rollout’ to the whole country is set to begin in October.

However, the expansion has been blighted by errors, with a six-week payment delay at the start of the process causing particular difficulties for families.

In five years, it is expected that Universal Credit will be claimed by over 650,000 households in Scotland.

A group of 24 charities signed a joint public letter last week calling for the rollout to be stopped.

Sally Thomas, chief executive of the SFHA, which was one of the signatories to the joint letter, said: “We welcome this debate, led by Alex Rowley MSP, as Universal Credit is failing those who need it most. Those failures are putting tenancies in jeopardy and the refusal of the DWP to allow implicit consent – which has worked satisfactorily for all other benefits – has meant that support and advice staff in housing associations and other agencies have huge problems helping very vulnerable people navigate the benefit maze.

“Universal Credit Full Service catches all types of claimant, not just the straightforward single jobseekers the Live Service dealt with. It is no exaggeration to say that failure to process claims promptly, combined with the huge rise in volume and complexity, will have catastrophic consequences for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Ms Thomas added: “SFHA members are working hard to build a new generation of high quality affordable homes, however, the roll-out of Universal Credit is undermining their sustainability. Whilst Universal Credit remains reserved to Westminster, it is crucial that the Scottish Government can mitigate its more negative effects.

“We have asked that the Scottish Government ensures any recipients in receipt of Discretionary Housing Payments are seen as and treated as part of the ‘Scottish social security system’.

“We want to see local authorities given a duty to provide a Discretionary Housing Payment scheme, and we urgently need to see proposals from the Scottish Government on the use of top-up payments.

“There is a growing body of evidence that Universal Credit is not performing as it should, and we have seen this from our members through their responses to our monthly Universal Credit survey – which an increasing amount are completing.

“However, the DWP is intent on rolling out Universal Credit regardless – despite repeated calls from organisations with direct experience of the problems caused by the system, asking for the roll-out to be paused whilst solutions are put in place. In the absence of a pause, there will be a pressing need to mitigate Universal Credit’s more harmful consequences.”

Alex Rowley
Alex Rowley

Scottish Labour interim leader Alex Rowley, who will lead today’s Members’ Debate, has highlighted a recent intervention from the Church of Scotland urging MSPs to take part in the debate.

Mr Rowley said: “The rollout of Universal Credit has been nothing short of shambolic across the UK.

“While we support the principle of streamlining benefits to make payments easier for recipients, the reality has been starkly different for families.

“Charities such as Citizens Advice Scotland have highlighted the damage the initial six-week payment gap is inflicting on families who are struggling to get by.

“It has directly led to people ending up in rent arrears, relying on crisis grants and foodbanks to afford the most basic necessities.

“It is vital that we do not allow the rollout of this system to go ahead here in Scotland.

“I hope MSPs will join Labour, dozens of charities in Scotland in seeking to halt Universal Credit until these issues are resolved.”

Church of Scotland’s letter sent to MSPs

I am writing to you ahead of Alex Rowley MSPs Members Debate on Thursday 7 September: Support for Citizens Advice Scotland’s Call to Stop Accelerated Roll-out of Universal Credit.

The Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland is deeply concerned by the evidence that Citizens Advice Scotland has reported of significant hardship being caused by the rollout of the new Universal Credit processes. People in local churches across Scotland recognise the experiences that are reported by Citizens Advice Scotland – we see the very real fear and anxiety being caused in our communities by the current rollout process.

We urge the Scottish Parliament to consider the evidence presented by Citizens Advice Scotland on the consequences of the rollout of Universal Credit, and to use every available means to convince the UK Government to stop the accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit while the processes are improved.

I hope that you will be able to be part of the Members Debate on this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Rev Dr Richard Frazer

Convener of the Church and Society Council

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