Landlords and tenants are being consistently let down by the five-week wait for Universal Credit
By Tom Say, campaigns manager
Being forced to a food bank or becoming homeless is an experience that lies at the very sharpest end of poverty. Many of us cannot imagine ending up in this situation. However, this is becoming the reality for more and more people across our country.
Just last year food banks across the Trussell Trust’s network gave out almost 1.6m parcels to people unable to afford food. This is more than the network has ever given out before.
This isn’t right. We know one reason many people are facing this situation is due to issues when being moved onto Universal Credit. Under the Government’s new benefits system people are having to wait at least five weeks for a first payment and are getting into debt as a result.
We know this can change. We are glad the National Landlords Association (NLA) has joined the #5WeeksTooLong campaign and are united with us, 40 other organisations and over 14,000 individuals, in urging the Government to end the five week wait now.
Over recent years a huge increase in the cost of living has led many people to become locked in poverty as benefit payments remain frozen at the same level they were four years ago. While the cost of living has risen, affordable housing has also become harder and harder to access.
In fact, since 2010 the construction rate of social homes has fallen by 97% and social housing stock has dropped by half in 40 years, leaving the private rented sector to pick up the slack.
The number of households in the private rented sector in the UK more than doubled in a decade to 4.5m in 2017. As social lettings continue to fall and with home ownership out of reach, more and more people on low incomes have no option but to rent privately.
Yet the proportion of private landlords willing to rent to people supported by benefits has slipped to just 15 percent, making it harder than ever for people to find a place to call home. Why is this?
The NLA tell us landlords and tenants are being consistently let down by the five-week wait, as well as by administrative errors inherent to Universal Credit. This is leaving many tenants in significant rent arrears and facing the risk of eviction before their benefit has even been received.
With 76 percent of landlords who let to tenants on Universal Credit experiencing arrears, making tenants wait five weeks unnecessarily hinders their chances to access the private rented sector.
In order to tackle the ever-increasing problem of arrears, the NLA believes that direct payment of rent should be made from the Government to the landlord by default, with the option to opt out of this, if agreed by both parties. We support the NLA and urge the Government to act on this ask to help those at the sharpest end of poverty have a better chance of securing a home.
We are also supporting NLA’s ask for a re-examination of Local Housing Allowance rates, which have fallen well behind local rents in recent years, making landlords less likely again to rent to people receiving benefits.
Universal Credit is not the poverty-fighting benefit reform it was promised to be and we know the five-week wait for a first payment is one of the biggest issues people face when moving onto it. This is in our power as a country to change.
This wait is too long – ending it must be the Government’s first priority. Agree? Join us.