THE SWITCH to Universal Credit benefit payments has had a ‘significant impact’ on Solihull social housing tenants falling into rent arrears, housing chiefs say.
And the number of people claiming Universal Credit (UC) in Solihull has increased by more than two thirds in 10 months.
The latest council figures suggest more social housing tenants claiming UC have fallen into debt.
A council officer’s report shows nearly 2,500 Solihull Community Housing (SCH) tenants have made a claim for UC since May 2015.
SCH is the council’s provider for social housing.
Of the £1.9million owed to SCH by its tenants at the end of December, nearly £1.1million is owed by tenants who also claim UC – more than half of the bill.
The total bill owed by those who began claiming UC increased by £400,000 after they signed up.
But the problem is showing signs of levelling off as people begin to adjust to the new benefit system, SCH chiefs say.
UC has replaced various benefits and tax credits and has been gradually rolled out in Solihull since 2015.
Figures from the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that, as of December, 6,600 residents in Solihull were receiving UC.
As we revealed in May, there were more than 4,000 claiming UC in the borough.
The full service of the new national benefits scheme was rolled out in Solihull last April.
Charities in the borough have suggested a high number are experiencing problems due to payment delays and complications in making the switch.
An SCH spokesperson said: “Initially claimants are experiencing higher arrears at the start due to the five week waiting period and for this reason it is taking some considerable time for tenants to recover.
“More work is currently being undertaken to understand payment trends and analyse how long it is taking for a lot of tenants to get up to date with their rent payments.
“Over a third however, who are not managing well are having deductions made at source (from their UC payments) which is helping them to sustain their tenancies and reduce rent arrears.
“The direct correlation (between UC and rent arrears) is evidenced by the reduction in Housing Benefit income coupled with the ‘high volume of claimants’ that moved over to UC.
“Although there has been a significant impact in the main caused by ‘high volumes’ of cases, SCH has aligned its resources in a way that it will meet the requirements of UC ‘Full Service’.
“The impact on rent arrears is now starting to show signs of ‘levelling off’.”
The government claims the controversial benefit payment has contributed to achieving record employment and low unemployment at 3.9 per cent – the lowest rate since the mid-1970s.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd said: “There is wide support for the principles we advocate – helping people into work, making work pay, and providing support in times of need.”