After attempting to stop the rollout of Universal Credit last year, Scottish MPs have revealed the drastic effect it’s having on rent arrears in their constituency.
£2 million rent arrears
In the Highland Council area alone, £2 million of rent arrears have piled up. Arrears have built from claimants waiting up to 3 months for payments. Delays are regular, many blaming the complicated online application process.
The online applications have been reported as being difficult to correctly complete. Because of this claimants continually require to retry. The more attempts needed, the longer the process stretches. It places a tight balancing act on local authorities waiting to make payment. With claimants still trying to adjust, does the problem lie with universal credit itself?
Leader of the Highland Council during a 2013 pilot scheme, Mr Hendry, has spoken out about the scheme’s supposed failure. Telling the press:
Those of us who have experienced it in our constituencies have seen the devastation that it leaves in its wake. Worse, its continued roll out has had a devastating impact on claimants. Not just the unemployed but working people, single parents, the disabled and even the dying, particularly through the toxic legacy of debt and rent arrears.
Mr Hendry had already attempted to prevent the rollout. In October he spoke of how the policy caused problems for a great number of people. He stated
Our calls to the UK Government to halt the roll out of universal credit continue to be ignored, despite the devastation it is causing to people’s lives here and up and down the country. We must continue to give a voice to those suffering dreadfully at the hands of this failing policy
Having been the head of a pilot scheme in his constituency, Hendry had firsthand accounts of how it affected participants. Defending the rollout, government officials have said the majority of claims are paid on time.
The sticking point for many is the issues with those not been credited. Given the risks when rent and bills are not paid, even a few late payments can be life changing. With an enquiry into household debt already underway, politicians must keep in mind the tightrope currently walked by many households.
Those on low incomes rely on prompt payment for monthly expenses: Rent, card repayments, utilities, car finance and more. We are all aware of late payment fees and what can happen when a debtor goes behind on payment. Those on low incomes face much worse than simple debt recovery however. Bankruptcy and worse could beckon if the universal credit system fails to pay them promptly enough. With some claimants in pilot schemes not being paid promptly and delays occurring, could this be a sign that it is still not ready for some time? It would be a bold move to begin a rollout with high risks still in play.
Universal credit has not yet reached the entire UK yet. Various pilot schemes have returned with mixed results. Before we see a full rollout, it seems best to find a way to ensure payments go from ‘the majority’ to ‘all’ claimants when expected.