NOTE: This content is old - Published: Saturday, Nov 3rd, 2018.
Flintshire Council is facing a backlog in rent arrears of more than £2m as the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) causes hardship for its tenants.
The introduction of the single payment by the UK government replaces six existing benefits and was intended to simplify the welfare system.
However, there have been growing calls for it to be stopped over concerns it is increasing homelessness and the use of food banks.
A report set to go before politicians in Flintshire shows that the 449 tenants in the county on UC are facing collective arrears of more than £660,000 – an average of £1,473 per claimant.
That compares to an average of just £334 for the 1,313 people still on so-called ‘legacy benefits’.
The authority has revealed it is facing overall arrears of around £2.2m, which has increased by £1m since UC was brought in.
In the report Neal Cockerton, Flintshire Council’s chief officer for housing and assets, warned that the changes are now significantly impacting on vulnerable people as the number of evictions goes up.
He said: “There is growing evidence within the council and indeed, across the UK, that the introduction of UC is directly leading to a significant rise in rent arrears and resource challenges for councils and housing associations.
“There is strong evidence that demonstrates UC risks causing or exacerbating debt problems and tenants in receipt of UC are more likely to be falling into arrears than those on legacy benefits.
“The financial risk to the council is significant, as in reality, the council is competing for payment of rent from tenants who do not always ensure rent in paid as a priority payment.
“Other problems that exacerbate the situation and lead to an increase rent arrears, include lengthy delays of a minimum of five weeks before payment of UC is made to claimants leading to the accrual of rent arrears unnecessarily.
“Vulnerable tenants who have relied on the Housing Benefit previously and who are not used to paying rent themselves can often lack the budgetary skills to prioritise payment of rent and this also leads to a trend of nonpayment of rent leading to the council putting interventions in place to support tenants.”
In the last six months, the council has undertaken 17 evictions, compared to eleven during the same period last year – an increase of 54 per cent.
There are a total of 215 residents currently subject to court action, the majority of whom are subject to payment orders to ensure rent is paid on time.
In an increasing number of cases, the council is having to apply to the Department for Work and Pensions for managed payments.
The system means landlords can request payments directly from a tenant’s UC if they are eight weeks or more in arrears.
Mr Cockerton said: “The increase in evictions is partly due to the council now needing to take more robust action to tackle rent arrears and to end tenancies for those tenants who refuse to engage or pay the rent which is due.
“Tackling rent arrears cannot be achieved in isolation from offering support and the service will continue to work other advice and support agencies to support vulnerable tenants, especially those impacted by welfare reforms to prevent homelessness and ensure sustainable tenancies going forward.
“Although the service has increased resource levels in view of increasing caseloads and case complexity, there is also a need to invest in the right technology to help move us forward.”
He said that the authority was looking to invest in specialised housing software systems to improve the situation.
The report will go before a meeting of the community and enterprise scrutiny committee on Wednesday.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter.