Universal Credit arrears ‘frightening’, says GWSF

Maureen Cope
Maureen Cope

The deliberate exclusion of social landlords from the Universal Credit system means arrears levels are even worse than was originally feared, according to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF).

Submitting evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into Universal Credit, GWSF said that arrears aren’t just down to teething issues with a new system, but are the inevitable result of social landlords being shut out of the process, reliant on tenants to tell them about their Universal Credit claim.

GWSF said evidence from members clearly shows that arrears levels are much higher among Universal Credit claimants than among housing benefit claimants.

Maureen Cope, chair of GWSF’s Campaign Group, said: “Catastrophes are usually unexpected, but with Universal Credit what we’re seeing was sadly all too predictable. A system where the minimum wait for money for most new claimants is seven weeks was bound to cause hardship from the beginning. This is made worse by the lack of any proper system of communication between the DWP and social landlords.

“The original idea behind Universal Credit was hard to argue with - people able to keep a lot more of their income after taking up work. But those potential benefits are being outweighed by high levels of debt building up frighteningly quickly, and it’s still relatively early days in terms of rollout.

“As community based housing associations our members pride themselves on making and maintaining close contact with tenants, and this has always included helping them sort out Housing Benefit issues quickly. But now we just don’t have the information to be able to support people with their Universal Credit claim, with the result that tenants are quickly facing debt and hardship, and landlords’ chief income stream is being badly hit.

“It’s welcome that the Committee is looking again at what’s happening with Universal Credit, but our worry is that the UK Government will either be unwilling to make fundamental change to this deeply flawed system, or incapable of it.”

GWSF’s submission to the Work and Pensions Committee can be seen here.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) also submitted a response to the inquiry based on information supplied by members through its monthly Universal Credit Impact Survey.

Jeremy Hewer, SFHA policy adviser, said: “The roll-out of the full service is going to have a huge impact on associations, not only because the DWP has adopted a totally different way of administering Universal Credit but also because it has removed gateway criteria, so many more households will have to apply for Universal Credit. Therefore, there will be many more complex cases of families with young children, who will inevitably have different issues than households comprising single people.”

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