Landlords association chairman blames universal credit for increase in rent arrears

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PA Archive/Press Association Images - Credit: PA

The chairman of a landlords association has slammed the introduction of universal credit in Great Yarmouth as a 'complete disaster' and said he had never had to serve so many eviction notices.

The borough is so far the only one in the whole of the Central England region to have launched the full universal credit service for new claimants. Other areas had only implemented the service in the simplest of claims.

But full-time landlord of 25 years Paul Cunningham said delays in processing claims were causing tenants to fall into arrears.

Mr Cunningham - who is vice chair of the Great Yarmouth Landlord's Association and chair of the Eastern Landlords Association - said: 'I've issued more eviction notices to tenants on universal credit than I have over the last three years.'

Mr Cunningham said one of his tenants, who did not wish to be named, had been caused so much stress by being in arrears he had developed angina.

And some of his tenants on benefits were in arrears of more than £1000 because of the changes.

The picture nationally is much the same, with a report published by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) in June revealing universal credit was to blame for 79pc of rent arrears cases in council tenants.

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Mr Cunningham said issues were more difficult to sort out too. He said whereas before the switch to universal credit he could speak directly to the council about any housing benefit issues, this now wasn't the case.

'Under the old system I could ring the council and discuss any problems direct with the housing department, now, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will not discuss any aspect of an individual's claim even if I explain they are in imminent danger of eviction.'

'There will be an increase in homelessness which the council will have to pick up. It's just the most inefficient system ever.'

He added there were also complications in tenants asking for their rent to be paid straight from their benefits.

Some people prefer to do this to help manage their money, and the new system benefits are paid monthly instead of fortnightly, making it even more vital. He said while previously this was a simple thing to set up through the housing department, a form now had to be sent away.

'I've sent off four of these forms,' he said. But he was yet to hear back about them.

He was worried landlords would begin to think taking tenants on universal credit was more trouble than it was worth.

'It's an awful situation for tenants, I have a lot of sympathy for them,' he added.

Mr Cunningham said he was also hearing similar things from other members of the landlord's associations he headed up.

'This isn't because of the tenants, but because the system has let them down,' he said.

The Anchorage Trust works to find safe and secure accommodation for young people in Yarmouth who have been homeless, or are at risk of homelessness.

Co-founder Ben Stone said he agreed that delays with universal credit would affect people.

Mr Stone said: 'There's going to be a rise, there's no doubt in my mind whatsoever. Landlords will sell and disappear.'

However, he said with the trust hoping to gain charity status soon, they would be able to continue to bridge the gap between landlords they work with and those on universal credit.

Job Centre manager Julia Nix admitted last week that unversal credit in Yarmouth wasn't 'as smooth as we would like it' but said the Job Centre was working with customers to get things moving if there have been delays in payment.

A DWP spokesman added: 'There are often different reasons for evictions and to link it to welfare reform is misleading. The reality is that under universal credit, claimants are moving into work faster and earning more than under the old system.

'Universal credit is designed to mirror the world of work and give people control over their own finances. The vast majority of UC claimants are confident in managing their money and we provide budgeting support as well as benefit advances, and can arrange for rent payments to be made direct to landlords if needed.'

When asked, he declined to comment on any delays specific to Great Yarmouth.