The Department of Work and Pensions have released statistics that show that 112,180 people were claiming Universal Credit on 13th August. This was later than had originally been forecast, when Ministers anticipated 100,000 claiming in May, but was a good increase on the 9th July figure, when there had been 89,357.
Of those claiming in August, 31% were in work but entitled to benefits, with 69% unemployed. The DWP believes that 8 million households will be claiming the benefit, so still a long way to go, but as it wanted the process to be complete by Spring 2017, a massive acceleration is needed if they are going to come even close to hitting the target date.
I have been attending meetings with the DWP and, whilst appreciating the viewpoint of private landlords, could not argue with the ethos behind it. I was impressed to hear about the assistance job seekers would have, in mentors and the other assistance that professionals could provide. I took the opportunity when it was offered to visit a local jobcentre.
It was a very interesting experience, but I was left with grave concerns. From conversations I heard, the threat of sanctions is not being treated seriously. Though the threat of having their ‘wages’ cut was treated as a cruel threat, it was clear that some are ‘too busy’ to look for work, or to attend the sessions they are asked to. They will be sanctioned with the issues that raises.
Calls have been made for payment of the housing element of universal credit to be made direct to the landlord whenever a tenant is sanctioned, but this has not yet been agreed by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Universal Credit was not welcomed by private landlords, who saw it as an invitation for tenants to cheat them and to fall into rent arrears; these fears were answered by some safeguards for the landlord, in direct payments when arrears accrue and repayment of the rent arrears. It was also made clear benefits were intended as short-term assistance for most, who would be expected to work. This is a huge sociological change for that section of society who have generational benefit dependency and this cannot be changed over-night.
What does that mean for the private landlord? It means understanding that pressure will be put on tenants, that they will be sanctioned if they do not fulfil their personal commitment to find work and this may result in abandoned properties. Stress that you must be advised of any changes and that someone who decides to return to mum must notify you and relinquish the tenancy rather than abandon – you at least can then look for a new tenant.
I still find it hard to criticise Universal Credit and its’ efforts to deal with the long term, fit for work, unemployed. But changes in society will take time to be felt at all levels. The Government, working as they are to the limited life of a Parliament, have had to try and paint it as a quick-fix. It is not.
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