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Islington Universal Credit claimants twice as likely to be in rent arrears as people on housing benefit

PUBLISHED: 08:34 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:57 19 March 2019

Zainab Mohammed. Picture: Polly Hancock

Zainab Mohammed. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Universal Credit claimants in Islington are nearly twice as likely to be in arrears as those on Housing Benefit – and those in debt owe three times more under the new system, the Gazette can reveal.

This is based on figures from the end of January, which show that 1,795 council tenants have moved onto Universal Credit and of these, 1,390 people (about 77 per cent) are in rent arrears, with an average debt per person of £1,258.

This compares to the 4,806 Housing Benefit tenants in rent arrears in Islington, about 42pc. The average debt for a Housing Benefit claimant in arrears is £392.

One claimant, a single mother and full-time carer form Clerkenwell, says she’s accumulated close to £3,000 in rental arrears since her benefits were cut without warning and she was “pushed” onto Universal Credit.

Zainab Mohammed, 48, of Northampton Road, told the Gazette: “I have been living at this address for 13 years now but I’ve never had rent arrears before.

“I’ve always made sure the there was shelter for my kids. It’s more important than anything.

“You can live on bread and butter and water but if you don’t have heating and a roof it’s very difficult, so I always made sure I pay it [her rent].”

She says her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Income Support were cut without because she left the country for more than five weeks to visit family during the summer.

The DWP argued “rent arrears are complicated and cannot be attributed to a single cause”, adding “many claimants” are already in debt when they move onto Universal Credit.

Zainab cares for her son Lameen, 15, who has downs syndrome and learning difficulties. She says her family paid for flights to Tanzania so they could help look after Lameen during the summer.

“What made me suffer is they stopped my benefits the day we went away without telling me,” Zainab told the Gazette.

“I was pushed into rent arrears and Universal Credit and made to feel I was begging at the food bank, I feel it’s really unfair.”

Before going to visit her family, Zainab had been paying about £30 a month in council tax, but this rose to the maximum rate of more than £200 when her benefits were stopped, triggering the council to stop subsidising housing bill.

The Carers Allowance and Disability Living Allowance she was still receiving wasn’t enough to cover these costs, and she began to accumulate rental arrears on her council flat.

She was completely unaware this was happening while she was away, and upon returning in late August, was told to sign onto Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is an online-only system of monthly payments, replacing six working age benefits, including Job Seeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit.

It started being rolled-out in full across Islington in June.

After applying for the new benefit, Zainab says she had to wait five weeks before her claim was processed.

She moved onto Universal Credit in October and has since been receiving £1,312 per month, of which £820 has gone toward council tax.

Zainab, who taught Swahili and lectured at universities before the birth of Lameen, has had to make trips to the food bank just to get by.

She also claims to have just received a letter saying she’s been overpaid in tax credits, so will have £438 deducted from her next Universal Credit payment.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Ms Mohammed’s income support and housing benefit stopped when she decided to leave the country for more than five weeks.

“She is already receiving her full Universal Credit entitlement and her rent is being paid directly to her landlord.”

According to DWP data, 5,227 people had moved onto Universal Credit in Islington by the end of January.

Zainab is part of Islington Know Your Rights, a support group for claimants which meets monthly in the borough.

For more information contact Nick Phillips at nickplus007@gmail.com or call 020 7467 1283 or 07530 001653

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