Campaigns Welfare Reform and Homelessness

Universal Credit is forcing tenants into rent arrears

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

Universal Credit is causing tenants to get behind with their rent according to new research for the RLA.

It reports that 54 per cent of those private landlords who have let to tenants on Universal Credit in the past 12 months have seen them fall into rent arrears.

Of these, 82 per cent 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. 68 per cent 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 per cent 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 further found that 36 per cent 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.
  • Ending the five week waiting period to receive the first Universal Credit payment.
  • Ending the Local Housing Allowance freeze to ensure it reflects the realities of private sector rents.

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

David Smith, Policy Director for the RLA, said:

“Today’s 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.

“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.”

RLA campaigning around Universal Credit

The RLA has been active in its campaigning around Universal Credit and welfare reform. In July, a group of cross-party MPs put forward plans to improve the Universal Credit system, by ending the benefits freeze and promoting direct payments to landlords-something the RLA had been calling for.

Responding to the report out today, a DWP spokesman said:

“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”

Learn more about Universal Credit

The RLA runs training courses throughout the year for landlords and letting agents on Universal Credit. The courses are delivered by housing benefit and Universal Credit expert Bill Irvine. With dates coming up in Leeds, Carlisle, Manchester and Birmingham, book your place today.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

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