GHA Chair calls for changes to Universal Credit

The tenant chair of Scotland’s largest social landlord has renewed calls - as the coronavirus crisis continues - for “urgent and radical” change to Universal Credit (UC).

Bernadette Hewitt

Bernadette Hewitt, chair of Glasgow Housing Association, today called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to take immediate action on five fronts, including ending the five-week wait for a first UC payment.

Her plea has been supported by all of the other Registered Social Landlords in Wheatley Group: Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership, Dunedin Canmore, Cube, Loretto Housing, Barony Housing and West Lothian Housing Partnership.

“As vulnerable people all over the country know only so well, UC has been the single biggest overhaul of the welfare system in living memory,” said Mrs Hewitt, a mother of five children living in a GHA house in Barmulloch.

“It is simply beyond belief, as the world is being turned upside down by coronavirus, that people are having to endure the injustice and hardship created by many cruel aspects of this new welfare system.”

Bernadette added: “The UK Government needs to address the additional suffering and hardship Universal Credit is causing through this pandemic, urgent and radical action is need now.”

Wheatley, Scotland’s largest housing, care and property management group, set up a task force last year to tackle the impact of UC on thousands of its vulnerable tenants across the country.

Chief Executive Martin Armstrong revealed the task force, including 22 welfare benefits advisors working from home, had assisted 3300 people claim UC in the first seven weeks of the pandemic - almost twice as many as normal.

He said: “UC’s impact during this crisis has escalated hugely as families - many for the first time in their lives - struggle with issues ranging from poverty and unemployment to social exclusion.”

In her letter to the UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey MP, Mrs Hewitt calls for:

  • an end to the five-week wait people moving on to UC have before a first payment is made, and particularly for those who have to make several claims in a year and, therefore, face multiple five-week waits;
  • financial protection for people moving on to UC from “legacy” benefits, such as Income Support and Jobseekers’ Allowance, to prevent a potential sudden drop in income;
  • the housing costs element of UC (or rent) to be paid direct to landlords as the default option;
  • no further suspensions of third-party deductions, such as arrears on utility bills or rent or court fines, helping vulnerable people to get back on their feet and sustain their tenancies;
  • and promotion of partnership working through re-instatement of the Scottish and UK-wide landlord forums.

“The five-week wait for a first payment is a prime example of how cruel UC can be,” said Mrs Hewitt. “How anyone can expect vulnerable families, who often have nothing to fall back on, go without financial assistance for sometimes up to three months at any time, never mind during a pandemic, is simply beyond me.”

Mr Armstrong urged the DWP to re-engage with landlords. “It made no sense to suspend the landlord forums in place,” he added. “Surely the feedback, information and knowledge being shared are invaluable, particularly in these unprecedented times.”

Wheatley Group’s response to the coronavirus crisis to date has included:

  • delivering over 20,000 emergency food packages to vulnerable people across Scotland;
  • setting up a £200,000 Emergency Response Fund to provide struggling households with everything from essential white goods to energy and mobile-phone tops to activity packs and educational aids, such as low-cost tablets;
  • supplying an additional 100 homes to Housing First, a multi-agency initiative aimed at tackling rough sleeping and homelessness, on top of the 200 offered last year;
  • providing over 200 empty homes to several local authorities tackling homelessness;
  • and “flipping” 150 temporary furnished homes, turning them into permanent accommodation for the homeless people living in them.

Monday, June 08, 2020