Nine out of ten Welsh tenants on universal credit (UC) have a negative view of it. That’s one of the findings from the the first-ever Welsh research into the impact of the new benefit from the tenant’s perspective.
Launched in Cardiff on Thursday evening, the research was commissioned by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) as part of its Welfare Defence Programme.
Cardiff Metropolitan University worked with tenants by enabling them to design the research question and undertake the research themselves, using focus groups made up of their peers. The independent research, funded by the Oak Foundation, explores tenants’ experiences of UC, barriers to engaging with their landlord and solutions to overcome these barriers.
The report found that 91 per cent of tenants had a negative view of UC and 9 per cent a positive view. Among the other findings:
- There can be 4-8 week delays in payments, causing significant anxiety
- Several tenants were using food banks as a direct result of these waiting times
- The time taken to process applications and the amount of money given as a lump sum was causing confusion for some people.
Researchers also asked tenants about their experiences of communicating with their landlord. Generic rent arrears letters were found to be ineffective, with tenants preferring a gentler approach.
Tenants often relied on their peers for support and information. A huge barrier for some tenants engaging with their landlord and the DWP was due to confidence, literacy issues and the personal cost of contacting these organisations.
Participants wanted more communication between their landlord and the DWP as they had no way of knowing if rent increase charges had been taken into account as part of their new UC payment.
The UK average for rent arrears is £131. However, this more than trebles in Wales to £450 under UC which emphasises the importance of this piece of research.
Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, welcomed the report’s findings:
‘This report is the first of its kind about the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from tenants’ perspectives, uniquely undertaken by tenants themselves. CHC’s members are actively working to mitigate the impact of UC and, while it’s heartening to read the praise for support staff from tenants, there is a lot we can learn from this research.”
‘UC has created a vacuum between tenants and landlords. Under the current system, many landlords do not know if their tenants are on UC and are therefore having to pay their rent themselves. They are often only alerted to the fact that they are on UC when they fall into arrears.
Paul Langley, head of business development for CHC’s Your Benefits are Changing project added:
‘We currently do not have automatic access to information about which tenants are on UC and we are working with the DWP on a solution to improve this. The landlord portal, once rolled out, will improve data sharing to enable a personalised approach which is essential to ensure that we support tenants moving on to UC.’
Amanda Protheroe, one of the report’s authors, said:
‘Our hope is that this report reflects the experiences of tenants who are dealing with the issues around Universal Credit. Tenants were clear about issues and barriers to their communicating with both the DWP and their landlords but were most keen to discuss solutions. The overarching message was around the quality of relationships tenants had with these organisations with kindness being mentioned as something the tenants really valued.’
‘The best way to support people is to help them into work, and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. Our research shows that the majority of UC claimants are comfortable managing their budgets, and we’re working with local authorities and landlords to get extra support to those people who may find themselves in arrears.’
At the end of June 2016, the DWP reported that there were 281,014 UC claimants in the UK, of which 15,347 were in Wales. For the same time period, CHC members reported that they knew of 933 tenants receiving UC, who between them had combined rent arrears totalling £419,818.28 which equated to an average of £449.97 per person (see page 3 of the report).
Of those 933 tenants, 19 per cent participated in the Cardiff Met research. They were aged between 18-60 and were claiming or eligible for UC.
You can read the report at http://chcymru.org.uk/en/publications