Almost nine in ten Universal Credit claimants have experienced rent arrears since the new benefit was introduced, according to a new survey.
Research by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) found that 89% of Universal Credit claimants have fallen behind on rent repayments.
Universal Credit is replacing six existing benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
The survey also found that 34% of claimants are subject to alternative rent payment arrangements, which may include housing support being paid directly to landlords.
The NFA and ARCH have expressed serious concerns over the number of Universal Credit claimants falling behind on their rent, blaming the long assessment process and mandatory seven-day-wait before people can make a claim.
Landlords report not being informed that tenants have been transferred to Universal Credit, a problem faced by 96% of respondents to the survey.
Meanwhile, a shocking 95% of claimants say they have been pushed into financial hardship whilst waiting for their first payment.
82% experienced delays in their claims being processed, while 82% found that the housing element of their claim has been omitted completely.
The damning figures are just the last embarrassment for Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reform, which has been affected by numerous delays and the write-off of a multi-million pound software system.
However, Universal Credit will be rolled out to a further 500,000 new claimants next April and is currently available in three-quarters of all jobcentres.
Labour has branded the new benefit as “a postcode lottery“, after independent research revealed that some claimants could be left £3,000 worse off than others.
Chancellor George Osborne spectacularly reversed his planned cuts to tax credits in the Autumn Spending Review.
But the apparent U-turn is not all it seems because the delayed changes will still take effect under Universal Credit. However, Labour says benefit cuts under Universal Credit could be illegal.
The housing experts are calling on the Government to speed up the processing of claims to two weeks and scrap the seven-day waiting period.
Hugh Broadbent, NFA chair told the website 24dash.com: “These survey findings are very concerning for everyone involved in managing social housing in this country.
“In his ministerial foreword to the UC Social Landlords Support Pack, published this week, Lord Freud acknowledges the important role social landlords are playing in supporting tenants in receipt of UC.
“Yet despite our best efforts the proportion of UC claimant in rent arrears evidenced by our survey is shocking and shows that changes need to be made to the way in which Universal Credit is processed and delivered as it is rolled out to more areas this year.”
John Bibby, chief executive ARCH added: ‘‘In response to the worrying findings of our member survey we are collectively pursuing the issue with the DWP, as a matter of urgency.
“We have written to DWP officials requesting a meeting to discuss the results.
“It is important we work together with government to explore all available solutions to this problem and reduce the hardship being felt within our communities.”