We want to see a Universal Credit system that works for everyone

The government first announced Universal Credit nine years ago, to try and simplify what had become a heavily resourced and complicated benefit system.

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But the reality of it has been somewhat different.

Since joining the Federation last October, I’ve been meeting members from across the country, and at almost every meeting the topic of Universal Credit has come up.

I’ve seen the impact it’s had on tenants and residents and I’ve heard first-hand how hard it’s been for frontline staff to manage the changes.

Delayed payments and the difficulty of sorting out problems has caused unnecessary hardship.

We know that the design and implementation of the new benefits system has flaws – it simply cannot continue in its current form.

That’s why myself and the team at the Federation are pushing for changes to Universal Credit, to ease the strain on our members and, most importantly, their tenants.

We’ve been working to influence the government; since starting at the Federation I’ve met with Alok Sharma, Minister of State for Employment at Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and Neil Couling, who heads the Universal Credit programme at DWP.

The Federation has also had meetings with Secretary of State, Amber Rudd MP, to discuss the need for improvements.

Amber Rudd has shown that she is willing to listen, and I am reassured to see her commitment to look at flexibility in payments, empowering women and operational changes such as improving direct payments to landlords.

But we need to see a benefits system that gives people enough money to live on, supports people into work and ensures that everyone has fair access to affordable housing.

Our policy team and our members are working with DWP, and we’ve already seen some positive adjustments.

But there is still a lot more that needs to change before Universal Credit can work for all those that need it.

We’ve joined the other UK housing federations – Community Housing Cymru, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations – to lobby the government for changes to the system.

We are calling for the government to:

1. End the five-week wait for money

The five-week wait is causing unnecessary hardship, a rise in food bank usage and an increase in rent arrears.

Some tenants are being advised to claim the 100% advance on their payments to cover the five-week wait.

This leads to people falling into debt before receiving their first payment.

People should be able to receive a payment in this period and there should be greater flexibility on payment frequency and backdating for all.

2. Allow more data sharing between DWP and social landlords

Landlords need to be told in advance who is moving onto Universal Credit, so they can better support tenants and prevent problems for those struggling with payments or in need of extra assistance to make their initial claim.

We want to see ‘implicit consent’ restored and better use of the Landlord Portal for two-way communications between landlords and DWP.

This is key to the success of managed migration.

3. Ensure that Landlords receive their payments on the same cycle as their tenant

When benefits are paid direct to the landlord through Alternative Payment Arrangements (APAs), they are paid four weekly, whereas Universal Credit is paid monthly.

We recognise DWP have committed to monthly APAs and we look forward to working with them, ensuring landlord’s voices are heard in the design of a new system and encourage DWP to make these changes as soon as possible.

4. Increase funding for support and advice

The government needs to ensure people do not miss entitlement for Universal Credit.

They should allow flexibility of backdating for those who need it.

5. Make sure that work pays for everyone

The current system often means that when payday falls twice in the same calendar month, payments are reduced or missed the next month.

Back payments and tax rebates can also trigger this problem.

This leaves little money for families and households to live on.

We’re calling for monthly assessments to be matched to earnings within that period, improving work allowances and reducing the repayment taper.

6. End the freeze of working age benefits from April 2020

Benefits have been frozen for the last three years, so haven’t risen in line with inflation.

This means that monthly payments may not cover the increased cost of living.

We’re calling for the government to lift this freeze, including the freeze on the Overall Benefit Cap.

We’re working hard to make sure these changes are made; too many people are suffering under the current system and we want to change that.

The changes we are calling for are vital to improve the lives of housing association residents and tenants across the country.

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