Universal Credit Continues Failing

This is hardly a new topic and won’t surprise any private landlord, but on all sides, there are reports of how universal credit is failing in its’ aspirations to simplify the system and save money.

The private sector landlord has been blamed for many years for evicting tenants who fall into rent arrears, which is seen as poor management skills, carelessness and the only recourse tenants have to poor standard housing. Not true, of course, the local authority is more than happy to investigate if a tenant reports poor standards and will gladly take action against the landlord, who may have already ordered the work or, as is often the case, not had a report of necessary repairs which they would rectify, had they known.

Private landlords often have good relations with their tenants, which leads to an awareness that for some, if not many, managing benefit that arrived in one lump sum would lead to difficulties. Not so, said the Government, eager to implement the new benefit. 

There were safeguards against Universal Credit failing; a pay-back method for tenants who fall into arrears was welcomed, though they must still be 8 weeks in arrears before this can happen and pay-back would take some time, at the levels it has been decided are suitable.

Admittedly, it has been found from research conducted by the Residential Landlord Association that almost two-thirds, that is 61 per cent of private sector tenants receiving Universal Credit, are in rent arrears. This has increased from 27 per cent in 2016 that were in rent arrears. 

This could have risen, of course, because its introduction has been spreading over the country; but it might have been expected that the slow roll-out would have allowed some changes in implementation due to experience. Apparently, it hasn’t. Is this due to poor choice of tenants, failing management by the private sector landlord?

The same article where I found the above statistics also had an item stating that a Welsh Housing Association had an increase in arrears of 150 per cent for tenants on Universal Credit. Tenants now owe £2.28 million. 23 per cent of tenants now in arrears had kept their rent payments up to date, until they transferred to Universal Credit. How very odd. These are social tenants, allocated properties that were managed to the highest standard (ah!) and yet still owing substantial sums in rent.

Is it possible, therefore, that it is not private sector, or indeed social sector, landlords that are not providing good management, that dislike the new system because it requires a higher standard of management; but a system which is failing because it is not fit for purpose?

Intended to be nationally implemented by 2019, it seems this has now been extended to 2022. Like Brexit, will this date keep being pushed further back?

Alok Sharma, the Work and Pensions Minister (pictured), has been asked by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field, what arrangements have been put in place to prepare for the migration of benefits claimants in future. It feels as though this is a question a very long time in the coming!

The answer should be, let’s halt it until we know what we are doing. This is, however, unlikely to happen, with the newly extended date for full, national implementation. Will we still be reading about how Universal Credit is failing in 3 years, or 5 years? I wouldn’t bet against it.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon

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