Halton Housing calls for a slow down to Universal Credit roll out

July 2016 saw the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) in Halton.  15 months on, Halton Housing, the borough’s largest landlord has called for the Government to slow down the roll out following a number of fundamental flaws their early experience has highlighted.

The effects of the UC roll out have been widespread. Halton Housing reports the increase in arrears attributable to UC has increased by £400,000 in the last year.  Despite just 18% (1,252 tenancies) of customers moving onto the new benefit, this group accounts for 55% of the total arrears.

Prior to claiming UC, average arrears were £270. For customers in receipt of UC, the average arrears are now £448. This represents an average increase of 60%.

1 in 5 of our customers are not receiving a UC payment within the initial 6 week period. This is leading to financial hardship and in some cases, is also having a detrimental impact upon their health and wellbeing.

Claimants receiving UC as part of ‘in work’ benefits continue to struggle, as their fluctuating income can lead to money management issues, compounded by a high incidence of incorrect UC payments being awarded.

The organisation’s Welfare Benefit and Money Advice tea, that has doubled in size over the last year, is reporting a detrimental impact upon claimant’s health and wellbeing as well as a 50% increase in foodbank vouchers being issued over the past year.

Nick Atkin, Group Chief Executive at Halton Housing said:

“We support the overarching principle of Universal Credit.  However, what has become clear is that the introduction of the Benefit Cap, coupled with the fundamental systemic flaws within both its design and subsequent application need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We cannot sit back and watch as our customers and advice teams suffer with an ill thought out system and roll out plan that is only set to get worse.  Some of the anecdotal case studies I hear from the team are truly frightening. We are using our experience and understanding over the last 15 months to call for improvements and a slow down of the roll out process until these have been implemented.

“As Christmas approaches, we know that things are only going to get worse for our customers and we want to do whatever we can to continue to support them.

“As a landlord that has been at the forefront of the UC Full Service rollout we have also developed a concerted campaign to highlight and share these concerns more widely, as a direct response to the major financial pressures our customers are now being forced to endure unnecessarily.”

Colin Keiley, The Runcorn District Foodbank Manager said:

“We have seen an increase in the number of people needing to use the Foodbank over the last year. The number of organisations requesting our vouchers has increased, and our distribution centers are a lot busier. Over the last 6 to 8 months, Children in Need have been coming more frequently for food bank vouchers which they are having to issue to families, as so many people are in in crisis.

“Some people are saying that they are mortified they are having to come to Foodbanks, but they feel as though they have no other choice.”

Building upon the evidence presented to the Select Committee Hearing on 23rd January 2017 and our subsequent follow up letters and supporting information dated  25th January 2017, 17th March 2017 and 17th August 2017 respectively, Halton Housing welcomes the opportunity to make a further submission to update the Committee on the ongoing impact of Universal Credit (UC).  The recent letter can be found 12th October 2017 along with a supporting UC infographic summary.

Universal Credit impact in Halton

As UC rolls out to Birmingham and Manchester during October and November, Halton Housing has undertaken a review of the impact UC has had on them, their customers and Halton as a borough.  Some of the key issues with the rollout and system Halton Housing identified include:

  • 1 in every 5 of customers in receipt of UC are not paid within the initial 6-week timescale, forcing many in to severe financial hardship, and in many cases having a detrimental impact upon claimant’s health and wellbeing.
  • The 6-week waiting period means that anyone claiming UC from November onwards won’t receive any money before Christmas.
  • The number of referrals from Halton Housing to local foodbanks has doubled over the last year
  • There is the continued use of crisis payments, which claimants are having to repay over a six-month period. This is being deducted from claimant’s money, pushing people in to further financial hardship.
  • A lack of communication across DWP continues to have an impact on Halton Housing and its customers.
  • The increase in arrears and bad debt reduces the money available to build new homes at a time of a housing crisis, as well as lower investment in existing homes.
  • There has been more than a 100% increase in the number of possession cases due to rent arrears from the first six months of 2016, compared to the same period in 2017.
  • In the absence of information on UCclaims, increased numbers of cases are now being submitted for Court Hearings, with additional costs being incurred by customers.

As part of the report to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Halton Housing has also made five recommendations on how many of these could be relatively easily addressed:

  1. People must be put before arbitrary roll-out dates. Slow down the rollout of UC to ensure DWP actually apply their ‘test and learn’ approach rather than pursuing an artificial timetable.
  2. Consistency of service, timescales, information and advice for claimants. This should be underpinned by a transparent complaints process.
  3. A clear and simplified electronic payment system to both claimants and landlords. The electronic payment process was halted by the DWP due to a change in software supplier. No information has been provided to confirm when or if this change has been completed.
  4. Ensure the reasons for all deductions are notified to claimants and reduce the maximum overall deduction from claimants from 40% to 20%.

Acceleration of the rollout of the landlord portal (currently scheduled for October 2018) and enhanced functionality.

Read more at https://www.haltonhousing.org/2017/10/13/halton-housing-calls-slow-universal-credit-roll/

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