Universal Credit will be received by over 600,000 households in Scotland, and the final roll out of Universal credit is due to be completed on 5 December 2018. Importantly this includes the final parts of Glasgow, our largest and poorest city.
Our casework across Glasgow already confirms that Universal Credit is causing misery and increasing poverty. It’s an unworkable social security policy, in its present form. Universal Credit was the UK Government’s flagship welfare reform that was designed to simplify the benefit system and make it easier for people to transition into work, has now been cut so heavily, it is increasing misery rather than reducing poverty as promised.
We agree with the UN Special Rapporteur who said on 15 November that: “No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.”
Govan Law Centre believe the Universal Credit should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament so a new solution to in-work poverty can be found.
In the meantime we are calling on the Scottish Government to implement reforms to mitigate the worst impact of the policy. We are calling for:
· An urgent updating of the Scottish pre-action court requirements
· Prevent landlords deducting more than 5% of a tenant’s UC or disposable income for arrears of rent
· Social landlords to ensure tenants are made aware of the ability for direct payments from UC to rent
· A national co-ordination of advice and intervention strategies in Scotland to limit damage
Govan Law Centre hopes to build a coalition of civic and third sector groups and trade unions who will support the need for Universal Credit to be devolved to Scotland.
Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre said: “With the full rollout of Universal Credit in Glasgow for new claimants in a few weeks much more must be done to tackle the crisis of Universal Credit until it can be devolved. The Scottish Government and all stakeholders need to act now, with interim measures, to reduce the misery. We need updated pre-action requirements to provide help and support to prevent evictions, we should restrict the increased deductions from universal credit for rent arrears, ensure tenants are fully aware they can have their UC paid direct to the landlord if this will help them feel safer in their home, and we need national co-ordination of advice and intervention strategies in Scotland.”
Our interim campaign calls include:
– An urgent updating of the Scottish pre-action court requirements to ensure no evictions for UC delays and associated problems, and to ensure that landlords proactively help tenants make direct payments for rent. For tenants in the social rented sector this would mean revising The Scottish Secure Tenancies (Proceedings for Possession) (Pre-Action Requirements) Order 2012. Consideration should be given for requiring the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) to consider the impact of UC in private sector tenancy evictions.
– The introduction of a Scottish housing/regulatory rule preventing landlords deducting more than 5% of a tenant’s UC or disposable income for arrears of rent. This is the position at present for benefits like JSA/ESA, however, landlords will be able to deduct up to 20% of UC (to a maximum of 40% with other deductions).
– A requirement for social landlords to ensure tenants are made aware of the ability for direct payments from UC to rent where there are two months arrears of rent; and for social landlords to proactively promote direct payments to reduce rent arrears. The position in the private rented sector will be much more problematic and will require investment in third sector agencies to promote and advocate the rights of vulnerable private rented sector tenants.
– A national co-ordination of advice and intervention strategies in Scotland to limit damage from regressive UK Government social security policies. These adverse policies stand to be amplified from the destabilising economic effects of Brexit. Benefit sanctions can be challenged, and the replacement of mortgage interest with loans has been an administrative disaster, placing more low-income homeowners at the risk of repossession. This should be led by the Scottish Government and COSLA, together with Scottish advice agencies and welfare rights officers.
Examples of Govan Law Centre casework includes:
CASE 1 – this was not resolved for 6 months. The client’s landlord incorrectly stated that he had 2 bedrooms resulting in a 14% deduction for almost 2 years. Client was unaware as he could not understand his award. This has taken an extended period time to resolve as Universal Credit would not talk to the landlord. This had to be raised as a complaint and eventually a back payment was made. The client is also subject to a 160 day sanction – his entire standard allowance was taken off of him. He had to apply for hardship every month. This will now be deducted going forward.
CASE 2 – client is an NHS employee who is paid weekly. This resulted in some of her assessment periods containing 4 or 5 payments of wages. Her Universal Credit payments would therefore fluctuate and she could not budget.
CASE 3 – client has an APA. Despite this there are several months where the rent has been paid to the client or not at all. These have now been paid to the rent account.
CASE 4 – client had a rent statement which gave her rental amount. She was taking her HC element off of this amount and paying the difference. The rental amount stated was 4 weekly. She was underpaying by £30 per month.
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Govan Law Centre is one of the largest law centres in the UK.