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Agenda item

Scrutiny Review -Universal Credit - witness evidence/Notes of visits

Minutes:

Hannah Bowman, Housing and Adult Social Services and Marcia Gay, Peabody Trust were in attendance for this item and made a presentation to the Committee, copy interleaved

 

During consideration of the presentation the following main points were made –

 

·         By January 2019 about 1795 council tenants have moved to UC

·         Arrears are rising for those moving onto UC, which impacts on the ability to collect rent and eventually to deliver services

·         There is a lot of support on offer but take up is low – support includes help to manage claim, problems being experienced, budgeting and debt advice, use of APA’s where appropriate, engagement to reduce arrears, access help

·         Council is speaking to co-oops who collect rent on our behalf, about the processes that they need to go through to verify rent and support their tenants, information provided to TMO’s who do not collect rent to help them support their residents and direct them to support. In addition, talking to DWP about issues that occur for the first time, like rent increases and 53 week rent years

·         Housing are involved in the corporate UC working group and a housing sub group, which looks at the impact of UC from Council, other services and voluntary sector statistics

·         It was noted that DWP have recognised that there is a need for help with making a claim for the most vulnerable groups, but the funding received by the CAB nationally equates only to £100k in Islington, which on current reports sounds likely to be inadequate

·         The Council’s approach to assisting residents will be updated and reviewed on a regular basis

·         It is more challenging to monitor the effect of UC in the private sector. About 2300 residents claim HB or UC and live in private sector accommodation in Islington. The private rented sector is high cost and in high demand, so less landlords are reliant on letting properties to residents who need to claim benefits

·         Homelessness in the private sector accommodation has been the third most common reason for homelessness in approaching the Council, because they are at risk of homelessness. UC is becoming a factor in this category of homelessness

·         This reason can often be masked as residents who fall into arrears and lose their private sector accommodation may not come directly from this to the Council

·         The housing advice team are finding low levels of understanding about UC amongst those whose homelessness may have been contributed to by UC, and private sector tenants are not seeking help at an early stage when moving to UC, and it is often too late for the housing advice team to work with them and the landlord to resolve the arrears

·         The work to date has included obtaining funding to work with private landlords to prevent homelessness from landlords concerned about UC: work with private landlords to find alternative accommodation in the private sector, however this has proved easier to implement in other boroughs as the private sector is more affordable, and landlords are more reliant on letting properties to those in receipt of benefits

·         Where private sector tenants are threatened with homelessness and are benefit capped, the team refer them to the iMAX team for support and discretionary housing payments can be arranged to support these landlords

·         Accessing residents to give them advice at an earlier stage would enable more prevention work to take place with landlords, however these households tend to be less engaged with the Council

·         Private landlords are becoming less keen to accept those on benefits, and finding accommodation for single people under 35 is becoming more challenging

·         In response to a question it was stated that the average arrears for a family on UC was about £1200. There is a need to take a sensible approach to tackling arrears and how it could impact on the HRA

·         It was stated that APA’s were used in 32% of cases, and this is expected to increase

·         It was stated that the Council could apply for a deduction of arrears, however this left families with even less to live on under UC and voluntary payment of arrears was encouraged

·         The view was expressed that the Council needed to isolate the impact of UC on rent arrears, in comparison to when HB was applicable

·         Peabody Trust stated that they were using intelligent data to identify tenants at an early stage and had a landlord portal system to text residents to give them information on UC and offer assistance. If Peabody applied for an APA they would also give budgeting advice, however there has been a low take up for this

·         Peabody rent arrears were similar to the Council, and the main reason was that arrears built up from the 5 week delay payment for receiving UC. The rent arrear figure is comparable across Peabody Trust properties across London

·         Peabody staff were based in Job Centres once a week to assist claimants and staff did door knocking to inform residents about UC and support that could be offered

 

 

The Chair thanked Hannah Bowman and Marcia Gay for attending

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