I have been to several of these meetings now and am pleased to say that I am managing to make the voice of the private landlord heard.
The main content of this meeting was Salford going “live” with Universal Credit on 21st July, in Eccles and Worsley Jobcentres for selected postcodes. As clients will be told where they must make their applications, I have concerns for how they are meant to get to their designated Jobcentre Plus; certainly where I live, it would be 2 buses to get to Worsley, one to get to Eccles but this is a service that runs twice an hour. Cost and time implications should be considered.
There were a few points made which may be of interest.
- Credit union accounts can be used, it appears, but how soon particular credit unions will be able to do this is dependent on individual credit unions;
- Although it is being looked into, there is no provision currently to save an application half way through. Tenants need advising of the documents they need to provide before they start the application process so they can go through it in one go – estimates for completing a claim were about 45 minutes, with appointments to use the IT being given for 1 hour;
- For people in temporary accommodation, the housing costs can be taken out of universal credit and the housing element paid direct to the landlord;
- Change-of-circumstances can be done over the telephone, but change of bank details must be done face-to-face;
- Although a tenant on housing benefit may have his rent paid direct to the landlord, there will be no automatic transfer when they go onto universal credit – the tenant will have to make another case on grounds of vulnerability for an alternative payment arrangement.
Updates from the other partners were interesting, as were some of the statistics given by those who had contacts with housing associations. One partner is aware of an association with 57 tenants on Universal Credit, with 55 of them needing alternative payment arrangements. Another knows of an association with 7 on universal credit, 5 of whom owed over £500! This was a great contrast to a previous meeting where it had been stated 78% had no worries about budgeting.
A question was asked about sanctions – it was answered that where a client is sanctioned, it is the personal allowance that is cut, not housing costs; however, this would be checked to ensure this is the case. A representative of Citizens Advice stated that private landlords need the same access to the DWP as social landlords and they are working on this.
Few of our landlords are in Salford, but the steps they are going through should be mirrored by other authorities as Universal Credit is rolled out over the NorthWest.