‘Social housing tenants in Liverpool have spoken of going without food or showers because of problems with Universal Credit – as their landlords call for fundamental changes to the controversial policy.
In a major study, Riverside Housing – which is headquartered in Liverpool but manages 55,000 houses nationwide – has found that tenants on Universal Credit (UC) are being driven towards foodbanks and financial hardship because of problems with the benefit reform.
Its research found that across the Liverpool City Region, 12% of Riverside tenants are in receipt of Universal Credit – but their debts make up close to a third (32%) of the total arrears debt of Riverside tenants across the whole region.
After surveying tenants, they found that more than 40% of Riverside’s UC tenants have had to rely on foodbanks – while a staggering 80% said the wait for their first UC payment had caused them financial harship.
While UC claimants await their first payment they are entitled to apply for up to a full month’s payment as an advance. The Department of Work and Pensions then makes deductions from future Universal Credit payments, over a 12-month period, until the advance is repaid.
Almost two-thirds (61%) of respondents to Riverside’s survey said the repayment process was causing them financial hardship by reducing the amount they have to live on each month.
The housing association have interviewed tenants who have told them they are going without food and showers because of problems getting access to money on Universal Credit.
One Riverside tenant said: “We don’t have enough money to support us so we are having to visit the food bank more regularly. [We are] having the odd meal at a friend’s house but we go days without eating or showering because I can’t afford to put enough gas on to last enough through; I’ve had to sell most of my things to try and get us by.”
Another Riverside UC claimant added: “I’ve had to use food banks and use pay day loans and catalogues which I’ve found hard to manage and fallen into debt.
“I found the monthly payment extremely hard to manage as my work pay is monthly and not a lot at all.”
Riverside’s research found that arrears for tenants claiming Universal Credit in the Liverpool City Region are more than three and a half times higher than those not claiming Universal Credit, with average arrears of £666 for UC claimants, compared to £185 for those households not in receipt of UC.
The remarkable findings have led the housing association to issue an urgent call for changes to be made to the heavily criticised Universal Credit system.
Time for change
The Riverside Group is calling on the Government to make three main changes to improve the roll-out of Universal Credit by:
1. Ending the five week wait for Universal Credit
2. Increasing data sharing between housing associations, local authorities and DWP.
They believe Informing housing associations when tenants are notified of their need to claim Universal Credit allows housing associations to plan in support for residents before, and during, the claim process which could help to alleviate the hardship caused by five week wait.
The association said that if housing associations only find out when they get a rent verification notice, it is often too late to help their tenants avoid getting into debt.
3. Extending Universal Support funding to social housing landlords which provide welfare advice and support services.
Riverside believe housing associations ‘know their residents well’ and are often better placed to support them than the local Citizens Advice Bureau, who are increasingly overwhelmed.
The association believe providing this funding to housing associations could provide additional resilience to the Universal Support programme.
Fears for the future
Statistics revealed in May showed that more than two million Brits are now receiving Universal Credit with an additional five million set to get the benefit between now and 2023, when the Government estimates that there will be a total of seven million recipients.
Riverside Housing bosses fear that failing to address these issues with Universal Credit and the findings of its survey are extrapolated across the five million additional claimants, it would lead to:
– 2.05m additional people in Britain having to rely on help from foodbanks and voluntary organisations
– 3.1m more people seeing an increase in debt
– 3.5m more Brits finding it more difficult to keep up with household bills
As a result of these findings The Riverside Group has become the latest organisation to join the Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign. The campaign is calling for an end to the five week wait for initial Universal Credit payments in order to reduce the number of people who are forced to use food banks.
In April 2019, The Trussell Trust revealed that the number of emergency food parcels it has given out across Britain has risen by almost three-quarters (73%) from 913,138 food parcels in 2013/14 to 1.58m in 2018/19.
Hugh Owen, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at The Riverside Group, said: “Our findings clearly show that our tenants are experiencing increased financial difficulty because of the wait for Universal Credit. The five week wait means that many people are going without food or heating and are getting into debt to cover their bills.
“Living with increasing debt is simply not sustainable. As a result of the hardship being experienced by our tenants, Riverside has joined The Trussell Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign.
“While we have always welcomed the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit such as Universal Credit is intended to bring, the way it is being implemented in practice means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”…