Universal credit flaws exposed by social housing tenants
A housing association in the North West has said a survey of its tenants exposes flaws in the government’s universal credit scheme.
First Choice Homes Oldham, one of four initial pilots in 2013’s roll out of universal credit, found that many of their tenants had suffered multiple frustrations and complications with the system, and many were having to choose between heating or eating, reports 24dash.
Carried out via a telephone survey this summer, the data collected from 40% of FCHO’s tenants currently on UC found that:
• 55% found the period between making their UC claim and receiving their first payment very difficult. 44% managed financially by borrowing and 18% had taken out a pay day loan. • 74% had not been offered personal budgeting support by the Department for Work and Pensions. However, 57% of the tenants that were offered this service took up the offer. • 48% did not know they could apply for an advance payment for UC. • 43% who did know about this were informed too late to be able to claim advanced payment or said that their application took too long to process leading to them missing their deadline. • 37% did not receive their payment on the same day each month, making budgeting even more difficult. • 22% said the Job Centre had not informed them that their rent needed to be paid out of UC money. • 59% of tenants had not found work since claiming UC.
The survey also asked tenants for suggestions on how UC could be improved UC. Suggestions included:
• Rent being paid directly to the landlord. • Improved contact with claimants – tenants have struggled to pay to talk to UC teams due to the cost of phone calls and would like an email alternative or a freephone number. Tenants added that the call centre was disconnected from their problem as it wasn’t in the local area. • The Job Centre should loosen requirements as some tenants have had to apply for unrealistic jobs e.g. a job in Salford which started at 2am with claimants reliant on public transport. • Credit payment should be made fortnightly rather than monthly. Despite the government aim of making payments monthly to replicate work many tenants got paid weekly or fortnightly in previous jobs and therefore it did not replicate the work that tenants were likely to get.
Cath Green, FCHO’s chief executive, said: “We knew UC was going to hit customers hard which is why we have had a raft of initiatives and customer support in place since well before the pilot started.
“However, this survey really shows the harsh realities of the new system, and the stark choices our customers have to make between heating, eating and paying their rent. We have been working with the Job Centre, and will continue to do so to ensure this feedback is taken on board. Supporting our customers and ensuring they have a roof over their heads remains our priority.”
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