Swindon Tenants Campaign Group put in a Freedom of Information request to Swindon Council in relation to the impact of Universal Credit on rents arrears. We discovered that there were 1,080 council tenants on UC on December 3rd . Of these, 829 were in arrears, with a staggering average of £845.09 arrears. This is largely the result of the 6 week minimum wait for a UC claim to be processed. Because people who are transferring over from one of the old benefits to UC, are treated as new claimants, their housing benefit is stopped.
It is a complete injustice for people to be thrown into a financial crisis simply because of the introduction of a new system. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling for a change of policy which will end the penalisation of UC claimants. We are suggesting that existing benefits are paid whilst the UC claim is being processed. This will prevent people building up rent arrears.
We have written to the ruling group on the Council, the other political groups on it, and our two MPs, calling on them to press for a change to the system along these lines. Below is a PDF of an STCG leaflet which you can download. Please add your voice to this call for existing benefits to be continued until the UC claim is processed.
Glad to see you’re taking this up, and I hope people in many other areas are doing likewise. But what about new claimants going straight onto UC? We have other worries about UC too, eg the stricter conditionality many claimants may face, with increased rates of sanctioning and conditions placed on single parents from when their child is one year old (work-focused interviews) and work-related activities from when the child is two. Also, it’s looking as if claimants in low-paid work and only getting the housing benefit component could get this sanctioned if they fail to comply with conditions to do with seeking to increase their incomes/hours. And the benefit cap will presumably be putting a lot of families in major arrears too, whether on UC or on the legacy benefits.
All true Ellen. This is just one impact of UC. However, I am not aware of our demand being raised elsewhere. So long as UC exists then we should demand that the wait for payments ends, and the simplest way to do this would be to maintain payment of existing benefits until UC payments begin.
My union (Unite) just had a national day of action with a “pause and fix” demand. Obviously this is needed as we are facing an immediate humanitarian emergency due largely to the delay in payments (it will be stopping people getting new tenancies too, as well as putting existing ones at risk). But obviously there needs to be a wider conversation about benefits and the way they are being weaponised to force compliance with low pay and insecure conditions etc. I’m getting the impression that councils all over the country are panicking because they know they’ll have to pick up the pieces yet they are not getting the data from the DWP which they’ll need to identify who might be at risk – say – of eviction (and there are other issues too, to do with things like disabled people losing the enhanced and severe disablement supplements and adult care departments expected to pick up the tab). So councils have every interest in shouting about it and supporting campaigns in their local areas. Problem is their entrenched attitude of going on the defensive and trying to pretend they’re “managing” the cuts which are in fact unmanageable and need to be opposed.