CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Warnings over Universal Credit debt mountain

Camden owed £1.3 million in rent arrears from tenants struggling with benefits system

26 July, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski

NEARLY three-quarters of council tenants on the new Universal Credit system are in rent arrears, leading to fresh calls for it to be halted and reviewed.

Of the 1,533 residents living in council homes claiming Universal Credit, 73 per cent are in rent arrears, according to council figures released figures this week. The debt totals £1.3m with an average arrears of £1,194.

Finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski described the figures as “worrying” adding: “The [government] need to stop this further implementation at the very least and do a thorough review of how it’s working.”

Critics of the system say the five-week transition period leaves people stranded with not enough money to support themselves.

Council leader Georgia Gould said last year the council will not evict anyone “simply because they are affected by the transition to Universal Credit and fall into arrears because of government delays”.

Universal Credit is the new benefits system which wraps six benefits into one. The council has estimated that thousands will be worse off under the new system.

Cllr Olszewski said of the rent arrears situation: “That’s very worrying for people in that situation because, by virtue of having to claim Universal Credit their household finances are severely stretched and challenged, and the government is making it worse. We’ve hired three new additional debt advisers in the past year, to try and help residents and tenants who are on Universal Credit cope with the changes and get them through the difficulties.”

Around 4,000 are currently claiming across Camden and the final phase of roll-out will see existing housing benefit claimants asked to apply.

The Department for Work and Pensions says their research shows many people join Universal Credit with pre-existing arrears, but that number falls by a third after four months. A DWP spokesman said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, and more than two million people are now receiving support. “The reason for rent arrears are complex, and it would be wrong to attribute them to any one cause.”

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