Tenancy Disputes. Central Housing Group

Safeagent at odds with lettings groups over Covid arrears solution

Not-for-profit accreditation scheme safeagent wants the government to help tenants clear Covid-related arrears through an overhaul of Discretionary Housing Payments.

Enhancing these payments – which can be made to tenants in need by councils – would be the most effective way to support those who are in arrears as a result of the pandemic, it claims.

This marks out safeagent from most industry bodies, which have recently united to call on government to institute emergency grants and interest-free loans to help tenants clear pandemic debts to landlords. 
Currently, tenants can only be ‘passported’ to DHPs by being on Universal Credit or its predecessor, Housing Benefit – but safeagent says this risks missing out many claimants who are actually in work. 

A statement from the accreditation scheme says: “A modified DHP scheme could, therefore, help a wide range of renters who may have arrears now, or might be impacted in the future by the coming UC reduction and National Insurance increases. It could also provide tailored support to those on UC who are seeking work – and even be widened in scope to embrace those who fall outside of UC altogether.”

Safeagent has distanced itself from the call for grants or loans, saying such an option is not sustainable; it also says its own research has revealed low take up of such grants and loans in Scotland and Wales. 

“Currently it’s a lottery whether a tenant will meet the criteria to access support, with too much red tape to wade through. Although the picture on arrears remains unclear with varying reports on the levels of rent outstanding to landlords, with furlough ending, the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit and the Local Housing Allowance freeze, there could be higher demand for arrears support in the coming months” says Isobel Thomson, safeagent’s chief executive. 

“An enhanced DHP system could have a key role to play in helping people as they find work and clear debts to stay in their homes. If Government is serious about supporting tenants there must be an easy to access system for those in need. Rather than creating a new tenant hardship loan scheme, surely modifying DHPs is a more cost effective way forward?”

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