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Universal Credit is forcing tenants into rent arrears

Universal Credit is causing tenants to get behind with their rent, meaning landlords are dealing with more arrears, new research has found.

Some 54% of landlords in the private rented sector who have let to tenants on Universal Credit in the past 12 months have seen them fall into rent arrears, according to the study by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).

Of these, 82% said that the arrears only began after a new claim for Universal Credit or after a tenant had been moved to the Credit from housing benefit while 68% of landlords said that there was a shortfall between the cost of rent and the amount paid in Universal Credit.

Private landlords renting to Universal Credit claimants can apply to have the housing element paid directly to themselves when a tenant has reached two months of rent arrears. This is known as an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA). With the research today showing that it took landlords an average of almost 8.5 weeks for an APA to be arranged it means that landlords can be left with almost four months of rent arrears before they begin to receive the rent they are owed.

Among landlords with tenants in receipt of housing benefit, 62% said that they were worried that their tenants might not be able to afford to pay their rent when they migrate to Universal Credit.

The research also found that 36% of landlords said that they had buy to let mortgage conditions which prevent them from renting to benefit claimants.

The RLA is calling on the Government to do more to prevent rent arrears occurring in the first place including giving all tenants from the start of a claim for Universal Credit the ability to choose to have the housing element paid directly to their landlord.

The RLA also wants and end to the five week waiting period to receive the first Universal Credit payment and an end to the Local Housing Allowance freeze to ensure it reflects the realities of private sector rents.

According to the most recent statistics, 45% of households receiving Universal Credit with support for housing costs are in the private rented sector.

‘The research shows the stark challenges the Government still has in ensuring Universal Credit works for tenants and landlords. The system only provides extra support once tenants are in rent arrears. Instead, more should be done to prevent tenants falling behind with their in the first place,’ said David Smith, RLA policy director.

‘Only then will landlords have the confidence that they need that tenants being on Universal Credit does not pose a financial risk that they are unable to shoulder. Without such changes, benefit claimants will struggle to find the homes to rent they need,’ he added.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions many people join Universal Credit with existing rent arrears, but this number falls by a third after four months, and the number of landlords reporting Universal Credit tenants experiencing rent arrears has fallen over the last year.

‘The best way to help people pay their rent is to support them into work, and Universal Credit is helping people to get into work faster and stay in work longer than the old system. We continue to work closely with landlords and tenants to make improvements to Universal Credit where necessary, including 100% advances available from day one of a claim,’ said a DWP spokesman.