Min­is­ter finds that Uni­ver­sal Credit is not re­ally uni­ver­sally loved...

PROBE IS ON BY THE DWP INTO EF­FECT OF THE NEW BEN­E­FIT

The Chronicle - - News - By JONATHAN WALKER jon.walker@trin­i­tymir­ror.com @jon­walker121

Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor UN­DER fire Hous­ing Min­is­ter Caro­line Di­ne­nage has ad­mit­ted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is fi­nally un­der­way into whether Uni­ver­sal Credit is plung­ing claimants into rent ar­rears.

It fol­lows re­ports the new ben­e­fit sys­tem led to ar­rears of £1.1m among New­cas­tle ten­ants.

Ms Di­ne­nage re­vealed the Depart­ment of Work and Pen­sions had launched an in­quiry “to in­ves­ti­gate the re­al­ity of rent ar­rears in Uni­ver­sal Credit”, as she an­swered ques­tions in the Com­mons from Gateshead MP Ian Mearns.

But she ap­peared to sug­gest re­ports about the im­pact of Uni­ver­sal Credit have been ex­ag­ger­ated, telling Mr Mearns: “We have to be care­ful not to scare­mon­ger on this is­sue.”

New­cas­tle was the first city to have Uni­ver­sal Credit, and the body which man­ages the city’s coun­cil houses said in Septem­ber Uni­ver­sal Credit claimants were more than £1m in ar­rears on their rent.

It’s said to be a re­sult of claimants wait­ing weeks be­fore they get their first pay­ment. The Gov­ern­ment said monthly pay­ments re­flect the way many peo­ple are paid.

Uni­ver­sal Credit com­bines ex­ist­ing ben­e­fits such as tax cred­its, hous­ing ben­e­fit, in­come sup­port, Job­seeker’s Al­lowance, and em­ploy­ment and sup­port al­lowance.

Ms Di­ne­nage told the Com­mons: “The Depart­ment for Work and Pen­sions is cur­rently un­der­tak­ing work to in­ves­ti­gate the re­al­ity of rent ar­rears in Uni­ver­sal Credit.

“It aims to un­der­stand the true level of rent ar­rears for ten­ants, what is caus­ing them, and any im­pacts Uni­ver­sal Credit may be hav­ing.”

But she re­jected claims by Mr Mearns the new ben­e­fit had caused ar­rears in York­shire and the North West.

Mr Mearns asked: “I won­der whether it would be of any sur­prise to her that the chief ex­ec­u­tive of a large hous­ing au­thor­ity in the North East of Eng­land re­cently told me that the au­thor­ity had ar­rears of more than £2m from uni­ver­sal credit alone.

“Claimants in one au­thor­ity in York­shire and Hum­ber have av­er­age ar­rears of more than £1,100 each. Why is that hap­pen­ing and what is she go­ing to do about it?”

She told him: “We have to be care­ful not to scare­mon­ger on this is­sue. A Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Arm’s Length Man­age­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tions re­port says that three quar­ters of ten­ants who started to claim uni­ver­sal credit were al­ready in ar­rears, and re­search shows that af­ter four months the num­ber of claimants in ar­rears has fallen by a third.”

Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary David Gauke said Uni­ver­sal Credit was help- ing peo­ple into work, partly be­cause it is not im­me­di­ately cut off when they find em­ploy­ment. He said: “Uni­ver­sal credit is help­ing peo­ple to get into work and to progress in work. “It is also clear that peo­ple on uni­ver­sal credit are spend­ing more time look­ing for work than those on legacy ben­e­fits. “It is re­ally im­por­tant that we all work to en­sure the suc­cess of Uni­ver­sal Credit. We be­lieve it will re­sult in 250,000 more jobs - some­thing worth achiev­ing.” New­cas­tle is not alone in re­port­ing an in­crease in ar­rears. South­wark Coun­cil re­ported in Septem­ber rent ar­rears have gone up by £1.3m since uni­ver­sal credit was in­tro­duced. Fig­ures ob­tained un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act in Septem­ber showed half of coun­cil ten­ants who re­ceive Uni­ver­sal Credit in­stead of hous­ing ben­e­fit, across 105 lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, are at least a month be­hind on their rent.

Claimants in one au­thor­ity have ar­rears of £1,100, why is that and what’s she go­ing to do about it Labour’s Ian Mearns

Min­is­ter Caro­line Di­ne­nage

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