My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. This is a real problem. The previous proposals that we were given, and the previous explanations that we wanted to model on the world of work, frankly belonged to a different planet. Those tenants, particularly in social housing, who need housing benefit are not those, for the most part, who are paid monthly. They very often are on ZHCs, have insecure or short-time jobs, or have fluctuating incomes week by week. That is topped up by universal credit. They want and need the security of a home in order to continue often to be able to find the jobs that they want, which would give them greater security. If they seek direct payments to the landlord, why does the Minister think that the Government and the DWP can second-guess what is in their best interest? Why not treat them as moral adults who can make their own judgment? The result that we are already seeing and beginning to worry about is that refusal to give alternative payment methods until after six to eight weeks’ arrears, and given the time of processing that, we can be talking about debts of more than £1,000, from which tenants never recover.
The alternative is to try to help tenants to find ways to bypass the rigidity of DWP. So we are busy setting up jam-jar accounts and other friends are busy trying to use credit unions in order to bypass the total universal credit going into the bank account where the bank then takes payments for any other outstanding debts or anything else. As a result, HB becomes the last thing to be paid to the landlord. Many are already experiencing those problems. Certainly, one local authority tenant said to me, “Well, I won’t worry about that because that will be the last thing that gets paid. The local authority won’t evict me. It costs them more to send me into temporary housing and, given that I’ve got kids, I can run that risk”. That is the mental framework. She said, “I would be perfectly willing if they took it at the beginning of the month. But if I put it in the bank, it will be gone by the end of the month before I pay the rent”.
I suggest that the Minister responds very positively to this amendment. Where the tenant seeks it, the department should agree that alternative payment arrangement and stop all the futile effort that so many of us are making trying to find ways to loop around the system, to overcome the rigidities of the department, to help tenants avoid what will probably be debts from which they will never recover. I hope that the Minister will take the words of the noble Baroness and the noble Earl very seriously. It is a real problem on the ground.