New tenant rules for universal credit

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The government is introducing new rules that would allow housing associations to help prevent tenants claiming universal credit from falling into arrears.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be rolling out a pilot undertaken by Golden Gates Housing Trust, in which job centres can seek permission from tenants to inform their social landlord if they make a new claim for universal credit, across England.

Under the government’s flagship welfare reform, due to be phased in by October 2017, social tenants who previously had their housing benefit paid directly to their landlord will receive a single monthly payment.

Since universal credit started being rolled out for new claimants in October 2013, some tenants have struggled to adjust to this change and have failed to pay their rent.

Oxford City Council, which has undertaken a direct payments pilot, attributes £49,000 of its rent arrears to the trialled reform. Social landlords have expressed concern that they have no way of helping tenants cope with the change, because they don’t know who has been moved to universal credit.

Under the Golden Gates pilot, when someone makes a new claim for universal credit they are asked by the job centre to take a form to their landlord to verify their housing costs or to give consent for the job centre to contact the landlord.

This has allowed the 8,700-home, Warrington-based landlord to contact tenants who are claiming universal credit and give them additional support to help them pay their rent.

Julie Vickers, director of business support at New Charter Housing Trust Group, which estimates 36 of its tenants are claiming universal credit, said the move would prevent ‘inappropriate action’ being inadvertently taken against tenants in arrears who were merely waiting for their benefit to come through.

Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the proposal sounded ‘entirely sensible’.

The DWP said the change would mean social landlords would ‘know from day one’ whether their tenants were claiming universal credit or not.