Islington housing boss raises alarm over Universal Credit rent arrears

Cllr Diarmaid Ward, executive member for housing and development. Photograph: Islington Council

The councillor in charge of housing for Islington Council has raised the alarm over the level of rent arrears for residents on Universal Credit (UC).

In a continuation of the Town Hall’s opposition to the controversial benefits system, Cllr Diarmaid Ward (Lab, Holloway), executive member for housing and development last night called once again for the system to be scrapped.

Cllr Ward quoted figures to listening councillors showing that the proportion of rents as arrears continues to rise, sitting at 3.6 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent last year.

Seventy-two per cent of tenants on UC are in rent arrears, compared to 42 per cent on housing benefit.

Cllr Ward said: “Tenants on UC account for 53 per cent of total arrears. This, unfortunately, is not going away any time soon. Anyone who manages to fill in a Universal Credit application is a hero, because I couldn’t do it. It takes about two hours to do it online.

“Our UC board here at the council has done great work trying to help families and trying to get the message out, and we’re working closely with the CAB on trying to get the best advice on this.

“But I haven’t got all the answers to this. All we can do is try and help our residents as best we can on this and try to help them get through the process. This is not easy, beause in my view UC should be abolished.”

A council report on homelessness also warned that the UC roll-out would likely impact on this area of the council’s work, pointing to a potential limiting of the Town Hall’s ability to access private rented sector accommodation for homeless families as a result.

The housing scrutiny committee addressed by Cllr Ward has recommended that all councillors should continue to “campaign actively to end Universal Credit and replace it with proper social security system that supports people rather than penalising them”.

In December 2018, Islington Council passed a motion demanding that UC be scrapped altogether, referring to it as a “policy of deliberate destitution”, with almost 10,000 households in Islington predicted to lose an average of £500 per household per year at the time.

Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince, addressing Parliament on 27 February, said: “Universal Credit is designed to mirror the way most people in work are paid, which is monthly. Our latest published data shows around 87 per cent of new claimants in October 2019 are being paid in full and on time.

“If there are delays in making the first payment, this can be due to outstanding verification issues, such as proving bank statements or proof of rent. It can also be due to a claimant not signing their claimant commitment.

“For anyone waiting for their first Universal Credit payment, advances are available of the indicative monthly payment.”