‘In a year, not one payment correct’: a council tenant on the misery of universal credit
The government has been warned by councils, charities and now even its own backbenchers that universal credit is a social policy disaster. But how does it feel to be on the receiving end of this controversial benefits overhaul?
In the video, visually impaired council tenant Jo King, who lives on Newcastle’s Newbiggin Hall Estate, talks about dealing with delays and miscalculations ever since she was moved on to universal credit over a year ago. She explains how she has twice been left without any benefits at all. In order to survive, she was forced to stop paying her carer and request emergency food parcels.
Her rent, which under a special arrangement is supposed to go direct to management organisation Your Homes Newcastle, has been consistently miscalculated, leaving her anxious and fielding regular calls from her rent officer.
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King’s plight is not unusual. Newcastle city council’s own figures show that by the end of June, 86% of tenants in the city receiving universal credit have fallen into rent arrears and the council has warned the system is putting vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness. Before universal credit was rolled out, only 53% were in arrears.
Other councils have encountered similar problems. A survey in July by the Association of Retained Council Housing found that 73% of tenants on universal credit were in arrears – up from 31% under the old housing benefit system.
The Trussell Trust, which runs food banks across the UK, has also reported problems. In areas with full universal credit there has been a17% increase in referrals for food parcels, more than double the national increase.
However, the government is pressing ahead regardless. From October, the rollout of universal credit to disabled people and families is set to increase from five to 50 new areas a month. At the Conservative conference on 1 October, work and pensions secretary David Gauke suggested that there would be no rethink and people facing difficulties could claim emergency advance payments.