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Housing body shares its concerns over implementation of Universal Credit

Housing professionals in Scotland have expressed concern at the potential for a negative social impact and spiralling costs as a result of implementing Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is a single payment introduced by the UK Government to replace a number of previously available benefits and tax credits including income-based jobseekers’ allowance, income-based employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit, but it has been dogged by difficulties and controversy since its inception.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) in Scotland highlighted a number of issues with the implementation of the new single payment in a consultation by the Scottish Government, looking at implementation of certain aspects of Universal Credit that have been devolved.

It follows recent similar warnings from the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee about “serious systematic problems” with the new Universal Credit system.

Submitting evidence to the Scottish Government consultation, CIH Scotland welcomed the planned introduction of certain additional flexibilities for Universal Credit claimants in Scotland. These include giving applicants the option of having their Universal Credit Payments made twice monthly and having managed payments of rent made direct to landlords.

But the organisation has also taken the opportunity to raise serious concerns about the results of the roll-out of Universal Credit in Scotland to date.

CIH Scotland says members on the frontline of housing provision are reporting a substantial increase in rent arrears as a result of delayed payments as well as inconsistencies in communication with Department of Work and Pensions staff. It says social landlords are being forced to commit substantial internal resources to support tenants with their claims while demand for financial support from alternative sources such as the Scottish Welfare Fund and referrals to food banks are also on the rise. CIH Scotland has also raised concerns that private landlords appear increasingly reluctant to let property to Universal Credit claimants.

The housing body warns that these factors are causing severe hardship for many tenants as well as increasing the risk of homelessness. The organisation has also raised fears of a return to the old ‘No DSS’ culture that restricted access to the private rented sector for many benefit claimants during the 1980s.

CIH Scotland’s executive director Annie Mauger said: “As the process of rolling out Universal Credit continues, we are increasingly being made aware of serious issues with implementation including spiralling costs of supporting tenants with the transition and severe hardship for the tenants themselves in terms of delayed payments, increasingly restricted access to private renting and a growing risk of homelessness. This experience runs directly contrary to the Scottish Government’s own aspirations to create a social security system that is based on the principles of respect and dignity.

“Aside from the human cost, these problems are placing real strain on local budgets and services that are already overstretched and facing the ongoing pressure of cuts. With many aspects of social security still reserved, we would urge the Scottish and UK Governments to redouble their efforts to work constructively together to find sustainable long-term solutions to these problems.”

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