Fresh from being branded ‘flippant’ over the benefit cap, DWP minister Justin Tomlinson maintains many social housing tenants claiming Universal Credit (UC) were struggling with rent arrears at the start of their claim.
But in a written response to a question from Labour’s Helen Hayes, Tomlinson said the DWP was currently carrying out related analysis of this issue with a number of housing providers.
This analysis, he said, would investigate and understand the “true level” of tenant rent arrears, what was causing them and any impacts UC may be having.
This, he said, would be published when completed.
Hayes had asked what assessment the DWP has either made or commissioned on the effect of the rollout of UC on trends in the level of rent arrears for social housing tenants.
Tomlinson cited “latest” figures – purportedly taken from November last year – as suggesting only about 8% of social rented households were claiming UC.
“Many tenants have pre-existing rent arrears at the start of their claim; indications at this stage are that UC actually helps to clear these arrears over time,” Tomlinson said.
He stood by “safeguards” including Advances, Alternative Payment Arrangements, and the additional two weeks of Housing Benefit transition support, while work coaches, he said, gauge claimants’ financial needs from their first interview and could refer them to more specialist support for debt advice if required.
Just over a week ago, Tomlinson was singled out in a damning Work and Pensions Committee report on the benefit cap that referenced “harrowing stories” of crippling rent arrears.
The report branded Tomlinson “flippant” for saying claimants avoided the cap by renegotiating rent or taking in a lodger.