Calls for benefit tenants' rent to be paid to landlords

Direct payment of housing benefits to landlords rather than tenants will be allowed – but only in Northern Ireland.

Landlords are now urgently calling for the move by the Department for Work and Pensions to be copied in the rest of the UK.

Following discussions with the UK minister Lord Freud, Northern Ireland’s social security minister Nelson McCausland confirmed the policy in a statement to members of the Assembly.

He said: “This is an important change as it will help to avoid rent arrears, with all the implications that can have for claimants and their families.”

Currently Local Housing Allowance is paid direct to tenants, and it is proposed that the new Universal Credit will also go direct to tenants.

However, private landlords say they risk having the rent not passed on to them, while a number of studies have shown that tenants themselves would prefer the rent money to be paid to their landlords.
Ministers at the DWP have argued that payments to tenants will promote financial responsibility.

Chris Town, vice-chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said that the Northern Ireland move should be copied elsewhere.

He said: “With 9.1% of all rent in the private rental sector being in arrears, this is a situation which is simply not sustainable for either tenant or landlord.

“Both parties in the Coalition before the general election pledged to introduce direct payments to landlords. Organisations working with tenants including Shelter, Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Trust all support tenants having the choice to have their rent paid directly to landlords.
“The Government should get out of the way and trust tenants to know what is best for them.

“If it’s good enough for Northern Ireland it should be good enough for the rest of the country.”

*Tenancy deposit protection is to be introduced into Northern Ireland, along with licensing for private landlords.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has approved draft new rules which will allow local councils to establish registers of private landlords operating in their areas, while a tenancy deposit scheme similar to those in England, Wales and Scotland will be set up.

Jennifer Donald, head of policy and public affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing Northern Ireland, said: “The private rented sector has grown really rapidly here. It is now bigger than the social rented sector by 2% to 3%.

“These regulations are important, primarily to help us get a better sense of the private rented sector.”