Universal Credit has already left more than 100 council tenants across Nuneaton and Bedworth owing almost £120,000 in rent. According to borough council figures,  there were 156 Local Authority (LA) tenants claiming Universal Credit (UC) and, of these, 126 were in arrears with their rent.
The total amount of money owed was £118,000 and 60 per cent of them had arrears equivalent to four weeks rent or more.

According to a Town Hall report, where LA tenants are in arrears with their rent, or there is a risk that they will fall into arrears, the council can request an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA). The Department for Work and Pensions look at certain factors when deciding if an APA can be agreed, split between Tier 1, such as addiction problems and severe debt to homelessness and mental problems, and Tier 2 including a history of rent arrears, recently bereaved, ex-service personnel. “Those residents who meet the factors in Tier 1 are most likely to have an APA agreed,” the report says.

It goes on to add that, currently, 25 per cent of the LA tenants who are claiming UC currently have an APA in place which means their housing costs are being paid directly to the council, which have a value of the arrears with an APA is £59,000. A further 28 APAs have been requested.

It is hoped that the situation will get better. As of February, the controversial seven-day waiting period for UC payments is being scrapped and, in April there will be a two week run of Transition to UC Payment, which will be paid to all Housing Benefit claimants moving on to UC.

In the meantime, the council says that it has two specialist Financial Inclusion Support Officers (FISO) to help with the impact of UC and other welfare reforms, such as the bedroom tax. There has also been a process put in place around Universal Credit which alert teams at the earliest opportunity that a tenant has made a claim for UC, so that they can provide support and help. “In addition to the work undertaken as part of the early intervention process we have a dedicated member of the enforcement team within revenues dealing with LA tenants who are claiming UC,” the report states.

“They are responsible for completing the necessary paperwork required for UC including requesting and monitoring requests for Alternative Payment Arrangements. Training aides for staff have been developed to enable them to best advise customers regarding UC. A newsletter has also been produced for internal teams to raise awareness of the welfare reform changes and the help and advice that is available.”

It was on October 25 that UC began to be rolled out to all claimants. The UC is a single monthly payment instead of separate income-based jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, working and child tax credit and housing benefit.

The government say that the UC is more tailored for the individuals’ needs, is simpler and is designed to help people back into work. The Universal Credit has not been without controversy or criticism, because it is based on how much money claimants have each month, it is paid in arrears – people claiming the benefit receive money for the last month worked, not for the month ahead.

Source: Coventry Telegraph

Leave a Reply