My second favourite government department (not), the Department for Work and Pensions, has belatedly published a guidebook to help landlords prepare for the roll out of Universal Credit.
It is rather late in the day because Universal Credit has been rolled out in many parts of the country and is imminently going to arrive in full in Brighton and Hove.
I hope this belated gesture by the DWP is a recognition of the problems being caused by this ill-conceived and badly implemented policy. There was research over the summer that showed that 86% of council tenants in receipt of Universal Credit are now in arrears.
Rather than paying rent directly to tenants in a single, direct monthly payment as is happening under Universal Credit, the DWP could have agreed that the rental component should be paid direct to the landlord. Now that would be a sensible idea and would have reduced the risk of rent arrears. Wait a minute, that’s what has happened until now. But some bright spark, somewhere in the DWP, who has probably never had a days experience collecting rent for a social or private landlord, thought that paying the rent to tenants rather than landlords would be a good idea.
At BHT we work closely with our tenants and support them to pay their rent. Rent arrears as at 3rd September were 1.1%. But amongst those on Universal Credit the level of arrears in just over 15% – in spite of the support we can provide.
Today (13th September 2017) the National Audit Office has said that the 60% increase since 2010/11 in households in temporary and emergency accommodation, and the 134% increase in rough sleeping has “likely been driven” by welfare reform. The freeze on Local Housing Allowance is, according to the NAO, “likely to have contributed”.
Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said the Department for Work and Pensions had failed to evaluate the impact of the benefit changes on homelessness.It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”
The consequence of this stupidity was easy for foresee, and experience has proven it to be the case. Belatedly publishing a guidebook for landlords isn’t going to fix this problem.
(PS my least favourite government department is the Ministry of Justice also known as the Ministry of Injustice or MiniJustice).