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Universal Credit: Rent Arrears

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 12:00 am, 19th November 2018

If she will make an assessment of the effect of universal credit on trends in the level of rent arrears.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Many claimants come on to universal credit with pre-existing rent arrears, but we have introduced new measures to make additional payments of two weeks’ housing benefit to support claimants as they transition to universal credit, and to extend trusted partner status to social landlords to further support our claimants.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Universal credit rolls out in Hull just before Christmas, and the council is already preparing for expected increases in rent arrears. I am sure that the Minister will have watched Sean McAllister’s film “A Northern Soul” on BBC 2 last night. It featured Steve Arnott, a low-paid worker, and his work on the Beats Bus inspiring children on the council estates of Hull. The film showed in-work poverty, food poverty and child poverty. Can the Minister guarantee that the families in that film and in Hull will be better off when universal credit is introduced in December?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The key to universal credit is that, for the first time, a claimant will get personalised, tailored support that can help them navigate all the forms of support available. Under legacy benefits, more than 700,000 people, among whom are some of the most vulnerable people, miss out on an average of £285 a month. Those on universal credit will typically spend 50% longer looking for work. This is key to unlocking the potential of all claimants to improve their life chances.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Thenue housing association in my constituency tells me that errors in universal credit, such as the system retaining the wrong landlord details despite the claimant having asked for that to be corrected, have meant that some tenants have ended up two months in arrears through no fault of their own. What will the Minister do to fix the system before people end up in debt as a result?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am very sorry to hear of that. If there are specific cases, please do not hesitate to highlight them. Through the roll-out of the landlord portal, which has been warmly welcomed by social housing companies and local authorities, there is an opportunity for claimants and housing bodies to work together to manage this migration process smoothly.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

The Minister knows that the five-week delay under universal credit forces people into debt right at the start of their claim, which too often leads to rent arrears and other hardships. I welcome the new Secretary of State to her post. Will the Minister encourage her to take a fresh look at this indefensible five-week delay in particular?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As we have pointed out, those transitioning from legacy benefits will get the additional two weeks of housing benefit and, with the new measures announced, two weeks of either their employment and support allowance, their jobseeker’s allowance or their income support, as well as access to advance payments from day one. The key thing is that this system mirrors the world of work. For the vast majority of people, their aim is to get into work, and in work they would expect to be paid in arrears. They would have to deal with that at the same time as going back into work, whereas now the personalised work coach can provide support by giving them access to advance benefits and pointing them to the support offered by Citizens Advice and our wider universal credit support network. It is about providing that support as people prepare themselves for the world of work.