Universal Credit sees people seeking rent arrears advice up by 47% – report

The roll-out of Universal Credit has contributed to the number of people seeking advice over rent arrears rising by more than 45% in five years, according to a new report.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) published the paper on Thursday, which notes the increase covers the period in which the social security changes have been introduced.

Former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Sir John Major are among the political heavyweights who have recently criticised the roll-out of Universal Credit.

CAS spokesman Rob Gowans said: “The rise in rent arrears is one of the most worrying trends we see across the Citizens Advice Bureau network at the moment.

“While there are a number of factors driving this, we have no doubt that the flaws in Universal Credit are one of the main ones.

“For the past 18 months we have been calling for a halt and fix to Universal Credit.

“We have set out again today the key flaws that need to be addressed, including reducing the waiting period before payment, cutting out processing delays and reducing deductions.

“These are relatively simple changes that could make a huge difference to millions of people.”

Figures from 2012/13 show there were 5,340 people seeking advice after getting into difficulty with rent payments, while in 2016/17 that number was 7,856 – a rise of 47%.

The report recommends issues with the social security changes are addressed, but also calls for efforts to be made to keep accommodation affordable.

Further recommendations include that benefits should cover the cost of housing and landlords follow “best practice” when dealing with those in arrears.

Additional causes for those finding themselves in difficulty were identified as being rent increases, low wages and lack of support for those in need.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Rent arrears are complicated and they cannot be attributed to a single cause.

“Our research shows that many people join Universal Credit with pre-existing arrears, but the proportion of people with arrears falls by a third after four months in Universal Credit.

”Managed payments to landlords are available as part of the alternative payment arrangements in Universal Credit, to minimise the risk of claimants failing to pay their rent.

“And we are rolling out the Universal Credit landlord portal to social landlords, which is helping us target support for vulnerable people.”

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville added: “With every passing day, there is more and more evidence of the damage being caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit. Families already struggling to get by are facing further debt, rent arrears and misery.

“We have done what we can with our limited powers, providing recipients with choices on the frequency of their payments and paying housing costs directly to their landlord.

“But Universal Credit is a reserved benefit and the UK Government should pay heed to the growing number of voices, from former prime ministers to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and more importantly from families the length and breadth of Scotland.

“They must call a halt to the roll-out of Universal Credit and use the Budget as the first step towards a fundamental review of this deeply flawed system.”