Social housing rent arrears go up

BHA's opertions director Jean Gray said Universal Credit is having a major impact on vulnerable people.
BHA's opertions director Jean Gray said Universal Credit is having a major impact on vulnerable people.

The introduction of Universal Credit is having a major impact on many Borders residents and local housing associations are seeing the knock-on effects.

Around 60% of Berwickshire Housing Association tenants who are in receipt of the housing element of Universal Credit are two weeks or more in rent arrears,

Jean Gray, BHA’s operations director, said: “BHA rent arrears do fluctuate but normally remain at a controlled level due to intense one-to-one work by both the customer accounts team and financial inclusion staff who have dealt with an increased number of higher cases in comparison to this time last year.

“Through close monitoring we are aware that Universal Credit is having a major impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

BHA figures at Monday, February 4, were: 158 (156 tenancies) in receipt of the housing element of Universal Credit; of these 98 are currently in rent arrears (two weeks or more in arrears).

It’s a similar picture across the region, with three other housing associations in the region reporting increased levels of rent arrears among tenants on Universal Credit.

Waverley, Scottish Borders and Eildon Housing Associations all report that the roll out of Universal Credit has had a negative impact on rent arrears.

They are all now having to forecast an increase in rent arrears into their future budgets as more claimants move from old benefits, such as job seekers allowance or housing benefit to Universal Credit.

As at end December 2018, 88% of their tenants in receipt of Universal Credit were in rent arrears.

Borders MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) has raised concerns about the impact of Universal Credit on rent arrears in the Borders following information received from Waverley, Scottish Borders and Eildon Housing Associations.

The number of tenants in receipt of Universal Credit who were in rent arrears at the end of December 2018, was 88% - compared to an average of 48% across all tenants in arrears for the same period.

Ms Grahame said levels of debt were also higher among tenants on Universal Credit - typically around £1,000, compared to the average across all tenants of around £670.

Ms Grahame said: “These statistics show bluntly the reality of the Universal Credit roll out into debt and poverty.

“As well as the increase in arrears among tenants moving on to Universal Credit, housing associations have also identified issues with its administration including varying payment dates, the time cost of verifying rent charges for each tenant through the DWP’s Landlord Portal, inconsistent advice from DWP, delays of several months in payments where the tenant has asked for rent to be paid directly to the housing association and an increase in the number of tenants needing to access extra support to manage their payments.”

“I would encourage any tenants with concerns about their rent to speak to someone as soon as possible to get a plan in place – either through their housing association or through the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.”