Homelessness could rise after Universal Credit roll-out, Welwyn Hatfield Council warns

PUBLISHED: 15:12 03 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:12 03 November 2017

Universal Credit is being rolled out gradually at job centres across the country

Universal Credit is being rolled out gradually at job centres across the country

Archant

Welwyn Hatfield Council has voiced fears over increased homelessness and soaring rent arrears amid the imminent roll-out of Universal Credit.

The welfare initiative – set to be introduced locally in December – is designed to replace six means-tested benefits, but the Tory-run council has agreed to contact MP Grant Shapps highlighting its concerns over the six-week pay delay.

WHC published a document online claiming rent arrears in the borough, currently around £1.14million, are expected to rise by a “minimum” of 50 per cent – and could result in “significant increases in applications for discretionary housing payments”.

The council document reads: “There is a risk of disruption to benefit claimants who are often vulnerable people in society as a result of the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] roll-out of Universal Credit.

“There is also a risk of the roll-out creating an incentive for people to limit their working hours in order to keep receiving benefits.”

It continues: “The council could see a rise in homeless claims as a result of the roll-out, due to the delay in claimants receiving payments, which may lead to a build of rent arrears.”

The fears follow scathing criticism from the local Labour Party, which claimed not postponing the scheme’s roll-out until the pay delay is resolved would cripple society’s most vulnerable.

•Labour councillors rip into Shapps over Universal Credit

Should it proceed as planned, WHC’s role will shift to a more advisory position, with core responsibility being centralised with the DWP.

But the council will receive £79k to oversee the implementation and management.

Welwyn Hatfield’s Tory MP Grant Shapps has said it is essential to remove the bureaucratic delay – a point he is making to Chancellor Philip Hammond – which he wants resolved before the local roll-out.

“I am a supporter of the principle of Universal Credit, but it is essential that it works in practice,” he added.

“Enabling people to get back into work is very worthy principle and so the Universal Credit is designed to work more like a pay packet, rather than the hotch-potch of benefits it replaces.

“However, no salaried employee would wait six weeks to be paid and I therefore consider it essential that any bureaucratic delay is removed.”

He said any council representations will be added to those he is already making, and stressed he will be a “doughty advocate” for anyone struggling during the transition.

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