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Today in politics: Universal Credit, protection for renters and safety certificates

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

We look at the increasing number of Universal Credit claims, calls for extra protection for renters and claims plans to extend the deadlines on safety certificates ‘could be dangerous’.

1.8m Universal Credit claims

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, yesterday gave an oral statement to the House of Commons on the DWP’s response to coronavirus.

Of note, she told the House: “From 16 March to the end of April, we received over 1.8 million claims for universal credit, over 250,000 claims for jobseeker’s allowance, and over 20,000 claims for employment and support allowance. 

“Overall, that is six times the volume that we would typically experience, and in one week we had a tenfold increase. The rate for UC claims appears to have stabilised at about 20,000 to 25,000 a day, which is double that of a standard week pre-covid-19.”

She went on to say: “We have also issued almost 700,000 advances to claimants who felt that they could not wait for their first routine payment, and the vast majority of those claimants received money within 72 hours.”

Responding to the statement, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jonathan Reynolds MP called for, among other things:

  • A temporary suspension of the benefit cap
  • Scrapping the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit

Responding to these points, the Secretary of State said:

  • In respect of the benefit cap: “it is not the intention to change fundamentally the process, principles or application of universal credit. I am conscious of the benefit cap, but we are still talking about a potential yearly income outside London of £20,000, or £23,000 in London, being given to benefits claimants. I am conscious that that could effectively be something like a £25,000 to £30,000 take-home salary after we take into account taxation and similar, so I do not think it is necessary right now to change the benefit cap.”
  • On the five week wait: “there is no intention to change that. In fact, in terms of the largest number of people who have claimed, this will be our biggest payment week going ahead.”

The former cabinet minister, Chris Grayling MP (Conservative, Epsom and Ewell) said: “Will she look again at the issue of LHA for the areas immediately outside London, as there are still anomalies that particularly affect my constituency, and of course there will be a greater need for housing support. Will she look at the level of support to make sure that it really is related to the local rental market?”

The Secretary of State responded: “LHA is done on the basis of certain housing areas, and the Chancellor announced a significant change in order to bring this up to the 30th percentile. I say to my right hon. Friend that councils across the country have been receiving discretionary housing payments—separate from the hardship fund. That was ongoing, and we added £40 million to it for this financial year prior to this situation. I encourage anyone who is still struggling in his local area to go directly to the council for some support.”

The full transcript of proceedings can be accessed here.

Coronavirus: MP calls for renters’ protection 

Dr Luke Evans MP (Conservative, Bosworth) has received a response to his written question asking what steps MHCLG is taking to ensure that (a) private and (b) social renters are able to remain in their homes after the covid-19 outbreak in the event of (i) redundancy and (ii) other changes in their financial and personal circumstances.

Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher MP, said: “The Government has introduced significant financial measures to help support tenants to continue to pay their living costs, including rental payments. 

“This includes support for businesses to pay staff salaries, strengthening the welfare safety-net with a £7 billion boost to Universal Credit, and increasing the Local Housing Allowance rates so that they are set at the 30th percentile of market rents in each area.

“Emergency legislation is now in place so that landlords will not be able to start proceedings to evict their tenants for at least a three-month period. The courts have also suspended housing possession proceedings. As a result of these measures, no tenant in private or social accommodation needs to be concerned about the threat of eviction during this time. We have also been clear in guidance that there is a need for landlords to offer support and understanding to tenants – and any guarantor – who may see their income fluctuate.”

A near identical answer was provided to Tulip Siddiq MP’s (Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn) written question asking what steps MHCLG has taken to provide financial assistance to tenants in a house of multiple occupation who are unable to replace a departed tenant during the covid-19 outbreak. The full response from the Minister to her question can be accessed here.

Sir John Hayes MP (Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings) has received a response to his written question asking what steps MHCLG is taking to protect private renters during the covid-19 outbreak in (a) Lincolnshire and (b) the UK. 

The Housing Minister responded by reiterating measures including the moratorium on evictions, and the financial support for tenants including increases in Universal Credit and the Local Housing Allowance. 

The Shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire MP, has received a response to her written question asking what assessment MHCLG has made of the number of people who are voluntarily leaving their privately rented home as a result of loss of income due to the covid-19 outbreak. 

The Housing Minister responded by noting that: “The Government routinely collects information on the movement between housing sectors through the annual English Housing Survey, the last of which was published in January 2020.” 

He went on to reiterate the measures including the moratorium on evictions, and the financial support for tenants including increases in Universal Credit and the Local Housing Allowance before adding: “These measures support Public Health England recommendation that people should stay in their current home unless absolutely necessary.”

Extending safety certificates ‘could put tenants at risk’

Dan Jarvis MP (Labour, Barnsley Central) has received a response to his written question asking what assessment MHCLG has made of the potential merits of extending CP12 certificate dates to suspend routine gas safety inspections for three months to reduce the potential transmission of covid-19.

The Housing Minister responded: “Gas safety inspections save lives and the Health & Safety Executive has made clear that extending the period of gas safety inspections at this time could put tenants at risk of serious illness or fatalities from gas explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Landlords should make every effort to abide by statutory gas safety obligations. However, we recognise that the current restrictions may be making it harder to carry out these checks. 

“There are provisions in the regulations for landlords to account for situations in which they cannot carry out inspections, however they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law. 

“Recognising the concern among landlords, residents and inspectors, on 7 April 2020, the Health & Safety Executive published further guidance setting out detailed advice for a range of scenarios. This can be found here.

“Our guidance is clear that no work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless the work is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household. 

“Where entry is required for emergency repairs landlords should take every possible step to minimise contact with residents and follow government guidance on tradespeople working in people homes, which may be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19#social-distancing-in-the-workplace—principles.”

Energy efficiency update

The Government has updated its guidance for landlords of domestic private rented property on how to comply with the 2018 ‘Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency’ standard (EPC band E). It can be accessed here.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.

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