A local authority in Scotland has said that almost 90% of local tenants in receipt of the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit (UC) benefit have fallen behind on rent payments.
South Lanarkshire Council says 87% of tenants on the controversial scheme, which merges a number of social security benefits into one single monthly payment, have racked up rent arrears totaling £525,000.
A report put before Councillors last week highlighted a range of problems with UC, including “significant delays in receiving payment, the wrong or no payment being made to housing costs and an inability to contact the UC processing centre to resolve issues on behalf of customers.”
The local authority says it is doing all it can to help UC tenants to reduce the amount they owe and prevent them from losing their homes, adding they “would only pursue an eviction action as a last resort”.
The Council has also put aside £1.187 million to cover debts accrued by tenants in receipt of UC.
MP Gerard Killen (Scottish Labour) blamed the growing arrears on significant delays before claimants receive their first UC payment, and called for the roll-out of the new system to be halted.
He told the Daily Record: “If the system is putting more people into poverty or debt, which clearly it is, then it should not continue in that form.
“A UK Labour Government would examine ways to reform and redesign Universal Credit which would include ending the six weeks delays in payments.
“This report shows the fears that the disastrous accelerated roll out of Universal Credit would lead to increasing rent arrears and force people into using food banks to feed themselves and their family are coming true. This is unacceptable in this day and age.”
Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland also blamed delays in payments, which she said “makes it very difficult for people who are already struggling in poverty and can lead to them falling into rent arrears, debt and having to rely on food banks.”
She added: “A major concern for us is that people may never recover from the delay and, ultimately, may then face the prospect of losing their home.
“We think the rollout of UC to any new areas should be halted so that the flaws can be fixed before they start to adversely affect any other vulnerable people.”
A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said: “The council works with tenants to prevent arrears escalating and would only pursue an eviction action as a last resort after all other efforts to resolve the situation have been exhausted.”