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I have resisted the temptation for a few weeks not to mention, yet again, news of the horrors from Universal Credit. I thought Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, was showing some concern for the Unfortunates who have found themselves on Universal Credit and have had to bear the consequences.
However, news came last week reported in ‘Inside Housing’ that Ms Rudd has announced Harrogate will be the pilot area for the transfer of existing benefit claimants onto Universal Credit.
The reasons for the choice of Harrogate are that Universal Credit went live there 3 years ago. Presumably they have handled the problems, heard the complaints and worked through them. Certainly, the Jobcentre there is experienced in working with Universal Credit claimants (and has the Mentors in place to assist claimants into work); the claimants are mixed, with both rural and urban claimants.
This should provide very valuable information, in that there may be seasonal workers in the rural environment; Ms Rudd said, ‘we will be making sure that … we can really learn and demonstrate the success of management migration’. So, a considered approach to the managed migration of claims, or to quote Ms. Rudd, ‘…we are taking a step-by-step approach to this, starting in Harrogate’.
On this news, I wish them well, and given the reasons why they were chosen, it should progress smoothly. It is, however, a comparatively small area. The Housing stock retained by Harrogate Borough Council is only 3,800 properties. 3,000 people are registered with the Jobcentre and are claiming the legacy benefits; they will be the first to switch to Universal Credit.
The news reported promises that those transferring to Universal Credit will be individually supported by the Jobcentre and vulnerable claimants will be given home visits. If they can deliver on this pledge, they may achieve what they want, in a smooth roll-out, that benefits Jobcentre staff and, more importantly, the tenants. Harrogate do not want tenants threatening suicide or making themselves ill with worry or malnutrition as they await benefit payments.
I hope part of the advice process will include explaining that tenants can continue to have the housing element of Universal Credit paid direct to the landlord. Harrogate Borough Council will probably ensure there is no gap between the migration from legacy benefits to Universal Credit, so rent accounts will remain up to date.
Will they be as assiduous about telling private sector tenants that it is no longer mandatory that the rent be paid to them and they can have it paid direct to their landlord? Though their taking responsibility for paying the rent themselves was part of the original ethos behind the combination of benefits being paid direct to them, we do not believe that the home-buyer is showing a lack of responsibility if he chooses to have the mortgage paid direct from his bank account. The days of taking cash in to the building society are long gone.
News of results from Harrogate will be closely monitored, and it is to be hoped that the way in which they operate will shape how mass migration to the new benefit is conducted as it accelerates to have all on-board by the end of 2023.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon