Universal Credit Housing Element

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th September 2019.

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Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Social Security Committee’s recommendation that universal credit housing element should be paid directly to a landlord by default, with the option for a tenant to opt out. (S5O-03568)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

As stated in my answer to Jackie Baillie on 26 June, the Scottish Government

“worked directly with people in receipt of universal credit in Scotland” when developing the universal credit Scottish choices. The feedback received was that

“people wished to have a choice about whether or not to have the housing costs in their universal credit award paid directly to their landlord ... almost 50 per cent of the people who have been offered the choices have taken up one or both.”

In other words, people have had the flexibility to decide for themselves

“whether it works better for them to have their housing costs paid directly to their landlord.”—[

Official Report

, 26 June 2019; c 12.]

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

Research by Citizens Advice Scotland has shown that rent arrears have shot up by 40 per cent since 2012. That is why the Social Security Committee heard evidence that paying rent directly to landlords with an opt-out for tenants was a “no-brainer”. Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether officials have assessed the social return on investment of the £2.50 that is paid each time that flexibility is used, and whether the experience panels have carried out any research in response to the committee’s recommendation?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I recognise the Social Security Committee’s recommendation on that and, more widely, I recognise its report. I point out to James Kelly that that was not the universal view of those who gave written and oral evidence to the committee. As I said in my original answer, we built Scottish choices by directly asking people who are in receipt of universal credit what they wanted.

The experience panels have not looked at the issue since the publication of the Social Security Committee’s report. However, as a Government, we are committed to a review of Scottish choices, so I look forward to hearing what those with lived experience of universal credit say about the choices that we have on offer—we can act on that accordingly.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

A recent Trussell Trust report found that food banks experienced a 30 per cent increase in demand in areas where universal credit had been in place for a year. Does the cabinet secretary think that it is time that the UK Government listens to the overwhelming evidence about the hardship that universal credit is causing and fixes the flaws in the system, starting with the five-week delay for new claimants?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The UK Government needs to look very urgently at universal credit, although it has spectacularly failed to do so to date. There are a number of significant problems with universal credit. Clare Adamson is quite right to point out the five-week wait, which, from recent reports, is having an impact on rent arrears. The minimum five-week wait before receiving the first payment, together with the direct deductions as a result of loans from the DWP, is the single biggest problem that people are having with universal credit.

As I did with her predecessors, I urge the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to listen to that evidence and act upon it.