Delays in the payment of Universal Credit (UC) are ‘unfair’ and are causing ‘major hardship’ for its tenants, according to Western Isles housing association, Hebrides Housing Partnership (HHP).
The claim comes as figures in a report produced by HHP show that the average rent arrears of its tenants claiming the benefit rose by 15 per cent since UC was rolled-out across the islands in September 2018.
Arrears often occur as claimants face a five week wait for payment as they transition from the previous benefits system to UC.
HHP’s report also raises concerns that housing elements of UC are routinely paid directly to claimants rather than landlords, and the organisation could be facing financial challenges from the benefit reform as rental income becomes ‘more difficult to collect’ and the costs of collection increases with the ‘unpredictability’ of payments.
Universal Credit was introduced by the UK government to replace six ‘legacy’ benefits, including income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit, with the aim of simplifying the claim system and increasing work incentives for the unemployed and those in part-time work.
The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has previously defended UC as being ‘a force for good’, and has highlighted the availability of loans that claimants can receive in some circumstances as an advance on their first payment.
In a statement, a spokesperson for HHP said: “We, like most other landlords, are very concerned about the operation of Universal Credit and the impact it has on tenants.
“In particular, the lengthy delays of 5 -7 weeks that claimants experience in waiting for their first payment are unfair and cause major hardship.
“We believe that the system at the very least needs major change and we are pleased to see that some improvements are being made.
“However, a system which by its very design causes rent arrears must be seriously flawed.”