Universal Credit and rent arrears – an exchange with MPs and Council Leader

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In December last year we wrote to our two MPs and the council Leader highlighting a spike in rent arrears as a result of Universal Credit. We called on them to press the government to change the Universal Credit rules so that claimants should continue to receive their existing benefits during the period when the UC claim is being processed. This would stop them being thrown into rent arrears. We also asked that claimants who received free prescriptions should be able to keep them during the waiting period when the UC claim is being processed.

We received a collective response from them which failed to address the issues we raised. You can judge for yourself be viewing their letter here 18.01.02 DR_JT_RB.dcc.MW 4825-1 .

What follows is a further letter we have sent them clarifying the situation faced by claimants, and asking them to actually answer the issues we have raised. More

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Labour’s Social Housing Review

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The Labour Party is holding a Social Housing Review. It was announced by way of a brief article in Inside Housing a few days before Christmas. The deadline for submissions is January 31st. The text and questions which were sent to the Defend Council Housing campaign are shown below.

The Review provides an opportunity to tell Labour what we want them to do in relation to ‘social housing’. Anybody who did not read the Labour General Election Manifesto might imagine that Labour’s policy is for a large scale council house building programme. Unfortunately it is not. Although Jeremy Corbyn talked of Labour building 100,000 council homes a year for five years, this commitment did not find its way into the Manifesto. Labour’s official policy is for 100,000 “affordable homes” for rent and sale by the end of the next Parliament; that is year five. There was no indication as to the proportions of homes for rent and sale. More

Universal Credit: end the punitive regime

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STCG’s call for people ‘transferring’ from existing benefits to Universal Credit to be paid their existing benefits until the UC claim has been processed, has been questioned on the grounds that those on ‘legacy benefits’ (the six benefits that will be subsumed into UC) are not transferring to UC yet. To understand what’s going on we have to get beyond the confusing vocabulary of the DWP. There is, it seems, a difference between ‘natural migration’ and ‘managed migration’. The latter will not take place until 2019 when all those in receipt of ‘legacy benefits’ will be transferred or ‘migrated’ onto UC. It currently only applies to ‘new claims’. Here’s where the bureaucratic language of the DWP obscures what is actually happening. It’s not just people who have never previously claimed benefits who are going onto UC. People are going from existing benefits onto UC now. (Read on below or download a PDF here january2018) More

Universal Credit update

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The figures which were given me by the Council in response to a Freedom of Information Request were not accurate, owing to “IT systems updates that the reports had not calculated correctly that weekend”. The situation is worse than reported.

A council officer has given me corrected and updated figures for December 3rd.

  • There are 1,080 tenants on UC. Of these 829 are in arrears – 76%.

  • The arrears owed by UC claimants are £700,587. Overall arrears for council tenants are £1,308,547. So UC arrears comprise 53.5% of all arrears for current tenants.

  • The average owed by UC claimants is £845.09.

You can see the impact of Universal Credit when you compare the arrears for November 2016 when it went fully live. These were £894,903 as compared to £1,308,547 today.

Martin Wicks

December 8th 2017

Stop penalising Universal Credit claimants

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Swindon Tenants Campaign Group put in a Freedom of Information request to Swindon Council in relation to the impact of Universal Credit on rents arrears. We discovered that there were 1,080 council tenants on UC on December 3rd . Of these, 829 were in arrears, with a staggering average of £845.09 arrears. This is largely the result of the 6 week minimum wait for a UC claim to be processed. Because people who are transferring over from one of the old benefits to UC, are treated as new claimants, their housing benefit is stopped.

It is a complete injustice for people to be thrown into a financial crisis simply because of the introduction of a new system. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling for a change of policy which will end the penalisation of UC claimants. We are suggesting that existing benefits are paid whilst the UC claim is being processed. This will prevent people building up rent arrears.

We have written to the ruling group on the Council, the other political groups on it, and our two MPs, calling on them to press for a change to the system along these lines. Below is a PDF of an STCG leaflet which you can download. Please add your voice to this call for existing benefits to be continued until the UC claim is processed.

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A meeting with the Housing Minister

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Myself and Brian Shakespeare attended an event in Oxford with the Housing Minister, Alok Sharma. This was one of a dozen events around the country where the Minister is attending meetings involving council and housing association tenants. In his introductory remarks he explained that Teresa May had told him when she gave him the job, that she wanted him to go round the country listening to social housing tenants and the issues they raised. So here he was.

The format of the meeting was somewhat limiting. After his initial comments the tenants had round-table discussions, where people raised the issues they considered of importance, broken down into three themes, which were handed back to the organisers. The “summation” of the discussion was not done by the tenants but by an official of the Department of Communities and Local Government from a cursory reading of the slips handed in by the group facilitators! (Read on below or download a PDF here sharma ) More

Housing Satisfaction Surveys: Repairs & Maintenance

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Swindon Council is changing the way that it measures tenant satisfaction in relation to maintenance and renewal of its housing stock. They will soon be introducing a system whereby tenants can comment on a job by typing directly onto a hand-held device that council staff have. If you don’t want to use this method – you might be reluctant to put down comments which are critical of the staff member – you can ask for a paper form, or you can send in your comments online.

The online forms can be found at https://www.voiceyourviews.co.uk/satisfaction-surveys

You will see a button for repairs and for various other works. You can go to the repairs form here:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/HsgRepairs

Tenants are sometimes skeptical about the usefulness of sending in comments. However, it’s important that tenants do comment on how good or bad the service was for a particular job. It’s our rent which pays for the service and we should be treated with respect by the people doing the work and expect a good quality of work.

Tenants reps are involved in regular meetings with council officers and discuss the feedback. The more that is received then the easier it is for us to see trends and patterns and to try to improve the service provided. Where we have evidence of problems we raise these with the council officers.

We would be interested to hear about your experience, good or bad, to help us in our efforts to improve the service we receive.

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