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Housing associations back Scottish Govt’s calls to halt Universal Credit roll-out

Scotland’s housing associations have welcomed efforts by the country’s devolved government to hold off the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government to request it halts the implementation of the full Universal Credit “until problems with its implementation are fully resolved”.

It’s an effort that the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) appreciates. The organisation says that feedback from its members has revealed the system is causing hardship to vulnerable households and has resulted in “unprecedented” levels of rent arrears.

“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,” said Mary Taylor, the SFHA’s chief executive.

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

The current method of assessment for Universal Credit is “flawed”, the SFHA says, because it is based on the model of claimants coming to claim from salaried employment paid monthly, but as Taylor pointed out “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,” she said.

“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.”

She went on to say: “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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