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Wishes for welfare

As part of WHQ’s feature about housing and the law, Douglas Haig calls for more changes to Universal Credit and the end of the benefit freeze in the private rented sector. 

Universal Credit comes with a reputation of long delays, financial hardship and soaring rent arrears in both the private and social rented sector. Announcements were made in the Autumn Budget that included claimants being able to apply for 100 per cent of an advance that can be paid back over a year, two weeks’ housing benefit run on for those coming across from existing benefits, direct payment for landlords with tenants who have this arrangement under LHA and more recently the need for explicit consent for direct payment from the tenant dropped after two months’ arrears.

These are all positive steps forward. However, if private landlords could wave a magic wand and make changes to existing laws there are still a few key obstacles on the wishlist.

Firstly, there would be a change to data protection law in order for the DWP to share information about the progress of a claim or any decision or action that affects the landlord, including if the claimant has been sanctioned or even an acknowledgement that an application for direct payment has even been received. Private landlords do not get access to a portal and any explicit consent given is only for a particular piece of business once the initial assessment period ends. This can lead to frustrating delays for landlords if they cannot engage with their tenant.

Secondly, a change to the Universal Credit regulations that would mean when a tenant leaves a property with arrears the arrears follow them and the landlord can claim the arrears back from wherever the claimant is, not just the current property. This lack of recourse does not reflect the ‘tenant responsibility’ ethos of the benefit.

Finally, a wider welfare wish that extends beyond Universal Credit would be to lift the benefit freeze in the PRS too – not just supported or social housing. There is reluctance amongst private landlords to rent to tenants on benefits as LHA rates are frozen and tenants have to find more to make up any shortfall in their rent. The decision as to who has their LHA frozen and who doesn’t should not be taken on tenure.

Douglas Haig is vice-chairman and director for Wales of the Residential Landlords Association

If you would like to contribute to Part 2 of WHQ’s feature about housing and the law, tell WHQ what you would change about the law in relation to housing and why by emailing the editor, Jules Birch, at [email protected]


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