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Universal Credit nightmare for Croydon landlady owed £9,500

Tuesday 21 November 2017

As more and more stories emerge about the hardships Universal Credit is creating for some of the most vulnerable people in society, The Guardian covers the story from the perspective of a Croydon landlady - owed £9,500 in rent by a Universal Credit claimant.

The woman, who spoke to the paper on Saturday, says she feels let down, angry and “in debt to everyone” - as a result of Croydon council being one of the first to adopt the government’s controversial Universal Credit scheme.

The landlady, whose sole income comes from the two flats she rents out, took on the tenant in 2013 after being given verbal assurances by Croydon council staff that the rent of £868 per month would be covered by housing benefit.

She says all was well until January this year when the rent was not paid for the first time. When she approached the local authority she was told that it was no longer paying her tenant’s rent as the tenant was claiming Universal Credit. But the tenant said her payments had been delayed.

In May her lawyer sent the tenant a formal request for payment of arrears and, after no response, an eviction notice was sent. The tenant replied by saying she was being harassed and threatened to call the police.

In June, the landlady learned that the tenant had been paid the back rent by Universal Credit staff. As it had not been passed on to her, she was told to fill in a UC47 form that allows landlords to claim rent arrears from the Department for Work and Pensions, which administers the benefit.

She says she sent this in twice, but was later told it had not been processed as staff did not have the tenant’s national insurance number. Then the tenant disappeared, leaving the flat in a dreadful state, and she has had to spend £2,500 on repairing the damage.

She told the newspaper: “The whole thing has been dreadful and I feel let down. The council who got me the tenant can’t or won’t help, and dealing with the new people is terrible. I know one thing – I will never have anything to do with anyone on Universal Credit again. I feel really angry about it all.”

A Croydon council spokesman said: “Housing benefit rules allow councils to transfer tenants’ payments direct to private landlords to help prevent arrears. As in this case, councils are not allowed to get involved in rent payments once the tenant moves to Universal Credit, which is run by the DWP.”

The council warned that without changes the system could have a devastating effect as it is rolled out over the next few months.

Head of Operations at Simple Landlords Insurance, Alex Huntley, added: “This week we’ve learned that those signing onto Universal Credit now won’t receive any income before Christmas, because of the 42-day wait for payment. That’s going to have a massive impact on those households when they can least afford it - and a massive knock-on impact on landlords.

“Our landlords tell us non-payment of rent already rises at this time of year as people struggle to manage utility bills and pay for Christmas presents - and Universal Credit seems to be adding yet another layer of pressure.” 

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) also has a number of serious concerns about the new benefit and has argued with the DWP that there should be a right for landlords to be paid direct payments once there are six weeks arrears.

Richard Jones, the RLA's policy director, said, "We strongly believe that the Government's whole approach is flawed and although the objective of helping tenants manage their financial affairs is in isolation a laudable one, the Government has wholly failed to appreciate the consequences of this.

"There will be a much higher level of arrears, an unwillingness of landlords to house benefit claimants (at a time when there is huge pressure on social housing), increased unwillingness by banks to lend for this kind of property (or increased interest rate to reflect the risk), much higher levels of evictions and much greater homelessness."

Indeed, last week, Lincolnshire property company GAP Property threatened all its tenants with eviction if they failed to pay their rent because of delays in Universal Credit payments.

Heather Spurr, lead policy officer on Universal Credit at Shelter, said: “Landlords refusing to take tenants in receipt of housing benefit isn’t a new phenomenon, but there is evidence that problems around the credit are exacerbating this. More landlords are deciding they just don’t want the hassle."

Alex continues: “Where that’s going to leave social housing as a whole, and many families individually, we’re yet to find out. From an insurance perspective, I’d advise all landlords who work with tenants on benefits to look into loss of rent and legal liability insurance - just in case they run into a scenario like the one in Croydon.”

Meanwhile, the DWP perspective continues to hail the scheme as a success. A DWP spokesperson said: “Under Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than the old system. Over time people adjust to managing monthly payments and reduce their arrears.

"The majority of people are comfortable managing their money upfront but budgeting advice, benefit advances and direct rent payments to landlords can be provided for those who need it.”

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