A report released today by the Northern Housing Consortium (NHC) highlights the measures social landlords are taking to deal with the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) and the pressure frontline workers are under.
The report: ‘Impact of Universal Credit – Revisited’ builds on evidence collected in the NHC’s year-long longitudinal study of its membership across the North collecting evidence on their tenants, their organisation and their experience of dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It also reflects on other studies throughout the roll out and anecdotal evidence from member consultation events.
The report highlights the level of extra resources housing providers have invested to tackle the problem — improved IT systems, new processes, team restructures and realignment of services to offset the negative impact on tenants’ rent accounts.
Findings suggest that although there have been positive steps taken by DWP, many issues raised in the initial studies are a continuing concern. This includes inconsistency of information from contact centres, rent arrears increases and waiting times still going beyond 5 weeks.
The NHC is concerned that despite the hard work of housing providers to offset the impact of UC implementation, the ‘managed migration’ of all remaining working-age benefit claimants onto UC which begins this year will result in increased caseloads for both housing providers and DWP staff alike, with the added pressures that come with it.
One housing provider expressed their concerns:
“We are concerned about the potential for customers to disengage from the benefits system altogether – particularly if they have issues with maintaining their UC claim, are sanctioned, or do not understand that UC includes support towards housing costs. Whilst prior to UC if the wheels fell off we could support customers to submit a nil-income statement to HB whilst they got back on track, there is not this option under UC.”
The NHC’s Business Intelligence Officer, Barry Turnbull says “The system should be more effective in the way it works with social landlords by being more flexible and there should be mechanisms in place to make it easier for third parties such as landlords to support claimants — the landlord portal could be pivotal in achieving this.”
With no realistic alternative other than to persevere with UC, the NHC again calls for a pause in the roll out of the benefit system to give DWP the opportunity to iron out the persisting flaws required to make the system workable for all concerned.
To succeed DWP must ensure its flexible approach to delivery helps it learn from its own experiences, those of claimants, and those who support them.