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The five-week wait for Universal Credit is not fit for purpose in the private rented sector

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A blog post by
Jake McKey
Policy & Public Affairs Officer

As part of its campaign to reform Universal Credit, the National Landlords Association (NLA) is now working with the Trussell Trust to end the five-week wait.

Together, we’re issuing a stark warning to the Government that the policy is an unnecessary feature of a system pushing more and more families into debt and hunger, further damaging their chances of having a stable tenancy in the private rented sector (PRS).

Figures from the NLA highlight that arrears and debt are becoming part of the grim reality of private renting for Universal Credit tenants as 86 percent of landlords letting to tenants on Universal Credit experienced rent arrears in the last 12 months.

Not only is the frequency of rent arrears high, but our research has found that with such a high incidence, the average amount of rent arrears for tenants has progressively increased.

The average amount owed is now £2,105, but this increases dramatically for Universal Credit claimants, to £3,842.

When contrasted with the latest HomeLet rental index, which found the average UK rent now stands at £941, this means that Universal Credit tenants now owe on average over 4 months’ worth of rent arrears.

This far surpasses the minimum 2-month arrears for which tenants could be evicted under a section 8 notice for breach of contract. This is a situation in need of urgent change.

But the five-week wait and arrears are not the only factors for many landlords in the private rented sector.

Additional administrative failures and delays within the system compound the already lengthy five week wait, with the NLA having found some members dealing with tenants who have had to wait up to 12 weeks to receive payment.

In circumstances such as this, many claimants have no choice but to take out advances in order to support themselves, which leaves both landlords and tenants with no choice but to take on additional debt in order to cover their costs, resulting in a situation that works for no one.

Unsurprisingly, the resulting and enduring difficulties faced by both landlords and tenants have created a particularly negative culture change in the sector towards tenants receiving benefits.

With recent NLA research finding that only two in ten landlords would house tenants on Universal Credit, down from 35 percent in early 2013, and debt and poverty continuing a downward trajectory, the Government must take decisive action.

As well as the negative impact in a business sense, the five week wait and growing debt has the tangible human consequence of increased food bank usage and hunger.

Trussell Trust research shows a 52 percent average increase in food bank use in areas that have had Universal Credit for 12 months compared to 13percent in areas that have not. If hunger is to be ended in the UK, families must have enough money year-round and a vital component of this is resolving the longstanding issues within Universal Credit.

Together with the Trussell Trust, we’re calling on the Government to take action to create a system that works for tenants and landlords, including:

Ending the freeze on Housing Benefit rates. The lack of availability of social housing has meant many of the most vulnerable in society are seeking homes in the private rented sector, leaving them vulnerable to rising market rents with the level of benefits paid for housing frozen since 2016. This longstanding freeze has meant the housing element of Universal Credit is simply insufficient for many tenants to cover their rent, eating into costs for other essentials.

Tackling both intentional and unintentional delays and gaps in benefits. Alongside the built-in five-week wait, many administrative delays with processing claims further compound families’ ability to afford essentials. This has still not been treated as a priority by the Government and an inquiry into the internal workings of Universal Credit needs to be made in order to prevent further administrative delay.

This is why the NLA is joining the Trussell Trust and more than 40 other leading charities and organisations in supporting the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.

If the Government is serious about making Universal Credit a success and reversing the continuing negative trends born of poor policymaking and implementation, then it needs to take action and provide immediate relief for thousands of people and families across the UK by ending the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment, the main driver of increased hunger and foodbank usage.

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Universal Credit: “It’s been a nightmare – I’m £2,000 in debt. I can’t get any more loans.”

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A blog post by
Emma Revie
Chief Executive  

Recently, the Trussell Trust partnered with single-parent charity Gingerbread as part of the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.

This campaign has been highlighting the changes Universal Credit needs to ensure proper support is in place for families with children.

The Government needs to fix issues with Universal Credit. There are a number of problems that must be addressed – the first priority must be to end the wait for a first benefit payment.

We’ve spoken to two mums working with Gingerbread to highlight the issues single parents can face – both are in work but need some support from our benefits system to keep their families afloat.

Instead, the problems they’ve encountered with Universal Credit have left them struggling to keep their heads above water.

Ayo, 29, London

Ayo is a single mum-of-one who works full-time in communications. When she came off maternity leave she had to apply for Universal Credit to help with childcare costs.

“I have to cover nursey fees which must be paid in advance and ended up paying three months fees without and being reimbursed by universal credit

“There were so many human errors. I was even told I wasn’t entitled to the childcare element of universal credit.

“After I eventually got a local MP involved, they addressed it, but I had endured several stressful calls – had to use food banks and was going to friend’s homes for food

“I kept being told staff were too busy to deal with my case and felt completely stressed out and unsupported. I have worked since I was young and paid my taxes which I thought was used to help the people who need it in society.

“Why should I pay taxes when I am not entitled to the help they’re meant to provide for people like me?”

Since Ayo’s case was looked into she gets a contribution of just £100 a month towards nursery fees.

“Because I make a fairly good wage I cannot be helped by any other charities, but nursery fees and rent costs are so high I have been left without money to afford food – I’ve been skipping breakfast and dinner so my daughter can eat. I’ve been in my overdraft and getting in debt.

“It’s pulled my confidence down. I feel scruffy at work as I cannot afford to keep up my maintenance.”

Shavishta, 26, Dorset

Shavishta is a single mum to a 4-year-old. Last November she got part-time work. The change meant she had to apply for Universal Credit.

Moving from the old benefits system to the new means she is left with far less than before –  just £120 a month after rent is paid.

In March she lost her job but she has been studying a science degree and is due to start work next week.

“I feel hopeless and have been put on anxiety medication. I’ve been surviving off just £120 a month, but then having to cover nursery too. It’s been a nightmare – I’m £2,000 in debt. I can’t get any more loans.

“When I first started Universal Credit I thought I’d be able to get more support but they don’t view further education as a means to progress.

“I want to work and get a good job but as a single parent it’s so tricky covering child care. I feel they (the system) don’t want me to succeed to get back into society. I’m just another statistic. I don’t feel supported at all.”

Women like Ayo and Shavishta are being trapped in poverty. If we want to help free people instead of locking them into further poverty, debt and hardship, we need to make sure Universal Credit can properly support people.

The first thing the Government’s must do is end the five week wait. It’s #5WeeksTooLong.

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