Housing provider plans own Universal Credit pilot

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Coastline Housing is planning its own pilot of universal credit in an attempt to assess the ‘real impact’ of the flagship benefit reform.

The 4,000-home south west association is set to become the first landlord to pay to test universal credit under more realistic conditions than the official pilot schemes run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), in order to model the true cost of direct payment.

Under universal credit, various benefits including housing benefit will be rolled into one monthly payment. Generally this will be paid to the claimant, whereas social housing tenants have previously had housing benefit paid directly to their landlord.

The £12.8bn scheme is due to be rolled out nationwide by October 2017, but officially 10 pilot schemes are already up and running, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Warrington, Wigan, Hammersmith, Rugby, Inverness, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton. The government also ran six demonstration projects with social landlords, and found 95% of rent was collected from 4,719 tenants.

But Coastline is working with the DWP to test universal credit on around 200 tenants that will be selected to reflect the proportion of working age benefit claimants in the Cornwall-based landlord’s stock.

It will go to its board to seek final approval in January, with the aim of beginning the test run in April 2015. The landlord has been told it won’t be affected by universal credit until 2016 ‘at the earliest’.

As of April 2013, around 56.1% of Coastline’s tenants were on full housing benefit and about 24% received partial housing benefit.

Louise Beard, director of housing and care at Coastline, said: ‘Many of the demonstration projects picked their customers and had resources pumped in, whereas our team are keen to establish the very real impact with current resources.’

She added: ‘We want a real picture of what will happen under the introduction of universal credit direct payment when it comes into Cornwall.’

The DWP said that it is continuing to develop its work with social landlords to prepare for the start of universal credit, but did not respond to direct questions about whether Coastline is the only new pilot underway.