‘Second city’ calls for Universal Credit rethink

Gauke faces multi-agency pressure from Birmingham over “disastrous consequences” of roll-out.

A view from Vulcan's observation deck on a fall afternoon in Birmingham, Alabama.

Homelessness and debt will increase in Birmingham unless the government agrees to rethink the roll-out of Universal Credit.

That is the warning from the second city’s Multi-Agency Welfare Reform Implementation Group ahead of next month’s planned roll-out.

Around 3,000 people in Birmingham currently receive Universal Credit with housing costs – but that number will significantly increase once the national roll-out gets underway next month.

It is estimated that eventually over 60,000 people in Birmingham will be eligible for the housing element of Universal Credit.

Official figures from pilot schemes elsewhere in the country have shown that 24 % of new Universal Credit claimants wait longer than six weeks to be paid in full – causing many to fall behind on rent.

Now, the chair of Birmingham’s Multi-Agency Welfare Reform Implementation Group, Cllr Tristan Chatfield, has written to secretary of state for work and pensions David Gauke MP to voice concerns.

Cllr Chatfield, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, said: “If the roll-out goes ahead as planned, there is no doubt that we will see an increase in homelessness and debt, just as we’ve already seen in other areas of the country.

“We know from the pilot areas that rent arrears increase significantly when Universal Credit is introduced, because, for many vulnerable people, the switch from multiple benefits paid in stages, to a single monthly payment in arrears with a built in delay, provides too much of a cliff edge.

“That will have disastrous consequences for many people across Birmingham who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

The implementation group, consisting of a range of partners including homelessness charities and housing providers, is urging the Department for Work and Pensions to make changes to the planned roll-out, by agreeing to a slower transition and other safeguards to reduce the risk of rent arrears and evictions.

Cllr Chatfield added: “We’re urging the DWP to take steps now to significantly reduce the risk of unintentional homelessness as Universal Credit is introduced across Birmingham.

“There must be a sensible approach to avoid the massive problems we’ve seen elsewhere in the country.”

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