‘Universal Credit should be abolished’: Housing chief condemns welfare reform as rent arrears continue to rise

File image of a job centre. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Archive

File image of a job centre. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Archive - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Rent arrears for Universal Credit claimants living in Islington continue to rise, the council’s housing chief reported on Tuesday.

Cllr Diarmaid Ward revealed 72 per cent of tenants on Universal Credit in Islington are in rent arrears, while only 42pc of housing benefit claimants are in debt.

Universal Credit is the government's flagship welfare reform replacing six working-age benefits, including Housing Benefit and Job Seekers' Allowance, with one online-only monthly payment.

The average rent arrears for a tenant on Universal Credit is £1,305 per household, significantly higher than the £352 for those on Housing Benefit.

"The proportion of rent arrears continues to rise," said housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward. "This, unfortunately, is not going away anytime soon. I think anyone who managed even to fill in a Universal Application form is a hero because I couldn't do it."

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He praised the efforts of the council's universal credit board and the Citizens Advice Bureau in trying to help people, but added: "I haven't got the answers for this, all we can do is try and help our residents. But this is not easy - Universal Credit should be abolished."

Arrears for the total rent-roll rose from 3.4pc at the end of September to 3.6pc at the end of December - and Cllr Ward said the overall figure is now 2.7pc higher than it was this time last year.

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Claimants on Universal Credit now account for 53pc of arrears, despite making up less than half of council tenants.

Universal Credit, which has been criticised for the waiting period of up to five weeks for a first payment, started being rolled out in Islington in June 2018.

As of the end of September, 3,176 council tenants were claiming Universal Credit, but some 200 people a month are switching to the benefit so this figure likely now exceeds 4,000.

In December 2018, Islington Council passed a motion of no confidence in Universal Credit and called on the government to scrap it.

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