Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Press Release on Universal Credit.
The issue of Universal Credit and rent arrears was debated at the recent Council meeting. The Labour Group had put down a resolution supporting our proposal for a change of policy whereby Universal Credit claimants should continue to receive their existing benefits whilst their claim for UC is being processed. That would prevent them needlessly being driven into rent arrears.
Unfortunately the Conservative Group amended the resolution in such a way as to completely negate it. They will apparently monitor the situation and “take such steps as are necessary in order to assist people in financial difficulty”. They are going to “keep our MPs informed on the matter”.
Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Secretary Martin Wicks said:
“What this unfortunate amendment tells us is the ruling group supports government policy of stopping tenants’ housing benefit during the period when their UC claim is being processed, even though it has meant council rent arrears increasing by over £400,000 since the UC ‘full service’ was introduced in November 2016.
It’s all very well talking about assisting people in financial difficulty but tenants would be more impressed if the Council was trying to stop them getting into financial difficulty in the first place. As the Advertiser Editorial on the issue said, the fact that people are driven into arrears through no fault of their own is “nothing less than a disgrace”.
When STCG wrote to the Conservative Froup we didn’t ask them to oppose UC, something which we did not imagine we could convince them to do. We were simply asking them to address a genuine problem which is a result of the way that UC is being implemented.
There is no practical reason why existing payments could not be continued until a UC claim is processed. The Conservative Group can still believe that UC is the best thing since sliced bred, and even that it will be a roaring success when everybody is on it, if they wish. They don’t have to abandon their fealty to the government to support our proposal. They just have to recognise that it is unjust for people who are poor enough to be on housing benefit to have it stopped simply because of the introduction of a new system.
The question that the ruling group and our MPs need to answer is why are they in favour of stopping tenants’ housing benefit and forcing them into rent arrears?”
The latest available statistics show that on December 3rd 2017 1,080 council tenants were on Universal Credit, of which 829 of them were in arrears; or nearly 77%. This compares with 25% of all council tenants who are in arrears.
Since November 2016 when UC ‘full-service’ was introduced council rent arrears increased by just over £400,000 to £1.308 million.
Around 3,000 more council tenants’ will have to go onto UC in the future.