SFHA welcomes Scottish Government call to halt full Universal Credit roll-out

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor

A request by Scottish ministers for an immediate halt to the roll-out of the full service of Universal Credit “until problems with its implementation are fully resolved” has been welcomed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA).

Yesterday the Scottish Government wrote to the UK government to raise urgent concerns over how Universal Credit is pushing more people into hardship and debt.

The demand comes after a Westminster committee launched an inquiry into Universal Credit amid concerns over delays in payments.

The new system – where people use an online account to manage their claim or apply for a benefit – is fully operational only in certain parts of the country.

Three Scottish councils, East Lothian, Highland and East Dunbartonshire, have it in place, with other areas piloting aspects of the full system.

The way it is paid means new claimants have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment, resulting in tenants building up rent arrears and being pushed to seek crisis or hardship payments.

Delays in payments have seen landlords, including housing associations, reporting financial difficulties, with councils reporting record rent arrears, a trend confirmed by feedback from SFHA members.

Mary Taylor, SFHA chief executive, said: “The DWP highlighted that further roll-out of the full service of Universal Credit would only be done if it was ‘safe’ to do so. With so many families and households falling into debt and forced to use food banks to get them through the initial period, it is clear the system is not safe.

“We have been calling on a halt to the roll-out of the full service until the issues have been resolved, and welcome the Scottish Government’s intervention.”

Communities and social security secretary Angela Constance issued the call ahead of a speech to Shelter Scotland’s Homelessness Conference yesterday, where the impact of the UK government’s welfare changes on homelessness in Scotland was discussed.

Ms Constance said: “I’m today requesting a complete and immediate halt to the full service roll-out of Universal Credit in Scotland, which is having such an appalling impact on people across the country.

“It is clear that the system simply isn’t working and the UK Government is not prepared to make the necessary changes.

“The six week delay in receiving a payment - with longer delays for some being experienced - is a completely unacceptable situation and one which has the potential to push low income households into further hardship and homelessness.

“I was also shocked to hear reports that, in some areas, landlords are advertising properties as ‘No UC’ due to their experience with the system.

“Despite the UK government having these issues highlighted in the pilots for Universal Credit and by councils, charities, housing associations and parliamentarians, absolutely no meaningful reassurance has been received.

“I therefore cannot be confident that these issues are even close to being fully resolved and it is my view that it is simply not credible for the UK government to continue with the further roll-out of full service Universal Credit until these problems are fully resolved.

“It is time for the UK government to admit their mistake, and put people at the heart of their system, instead of ideology.”

Dr Taylor added: “The SFHA shares many of the concerns expressed by the Scottish Government in both the design and administration of Universal Credit.

“The method of assessment is flawed in that it is based on claimants coming to Universal Credit from salaried employment paid monthly: this is not the case for a substantial number of claimants who simply do not have the money to tide them over for the six weeks.

“The initial seven-day wait before claimants are eligible for Universal Credit immediately puts them at a disadvantage of having a week’s arrears – under previous benefits, claimants were able to get help with housing costs from day one.

“The assessment method for Universal Credit also puts claimants at a disadvantage if they have a change of circumstance during the assessment period – previously, entitlement was calculated on a daily basis and claimants received a pro rata payment.

“The administration of Universal Credit exacerbates issues. The six-week wait for an initial payment is made worse if it becomes a 12-week wait because of errors, and the worry is even greater when you consider that Universal Credit full service has no gateway criteria and affects all claimants, including families with young children.

“The SFHA has found that the average level of arrears for tenants claiming Universal Credit in live service areas is much higher than that of tenants that are in arrears but not on Universal Credit. The level of arrears for tenants on Universal Credit in full service areas is even greater.”

Dr Taylor concluded: “The DWP is not engaging with organisations trying to help claimants who are having problems with their Universal Credit applications. An increasing amount of time and money is being spent by housing associations, and others, to help and support their tenants – this cannot be maintained if the volume of cases increases, as it will do if the DWP increases the rate of roll out from five to 50 Jobcentres a month.

“Universal Credit Director General Neil Couling promised that the accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit full service would only go ahead if it was safe and secure to do so. Now is the time to make this judgement call.”

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