Half of people waiting on Universal Credit payments struggling with housing costs

Half of the people Citizens Advice helps with Universal Credit struggle to keep a roof over their heads while they wait for their first payments, the charity has said.

One in two (49%) people the charity helped were in rent arrears or fell behind on their mortgage payments, despite the wait for their first payment being reduced from six weeks to five, according to Citizens Advice.

The charity also found 60% of people it helped are taking out advances while they wait for payment.

The report, Managing Money on Universal Credit, reveals analysis based on around 190,000 people Citizens Advice has helped with Universal Credit.

Universal Credit which helps people with their living costs replaces several other benefits such as income support and housing benefit.

But concerns have repeatedly been raised as the scheme has been rolled out about it causing hardship and suffering.

In February 2018, the Department for Work and Pensions said Universal Credit was being paid sooner to new claimants, benefiting the average household by around £160.

Citizens Advice said Universal Credit still needs to be made far more flexible to fit around people’s lives and to make sure people have enough money to live on.

It said nearly a quarter (24%) of the people it helped with Universal Credit were also seeking debt advice.

Nearly one in two (47%) said they have no money left after essential living costs such as food, housing and transport to pay creditors, or are spending more than comes in.

And more than four-fifths (82%) hold what Citizens Advice classes as “priority debt” such as council tax, rent arrears or mortgage payments, and energy debts.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Half the people we help with a Universal Credit claim are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads while they wait for their first payment.

“Changes to the waiting period for first payment have improved things for many people, but our evidence shows they don’t go far enough.

“Universal Credit must continue to be reformed so it works for all claimants and leaves people with enough money to live on.”

The research covered the period July 4 to September 7 2018.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Most people on Universal Credit are happy managing their money, but budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.

“Many people join Universal Credit with existing rent arrears, but this falls by a third after four months.

“We will continue to work closely with Citizens Advice and other stakeholders to develop our approach in order to provide the best possible support for all of our claimants.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The already dire housing emergency in this country has been made worse by the shambolic welfare changes that have been introduced in the past few years, including Universal Credit.

“The Government urgently needs to get Universal Credit fit for purpose before rolling it out any further, as well as bringing up housing benefit and local housing allowance rates so people can actually afford their rents.

“Alongside this, it needs to ramp up social housing building so families will have a chance of a stable, affordable home.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “This report makes clear that the Government has still failed to fix the fundamental flaws in Universal Credit that are causing many people such severe hardship.

“Tinkering at the edges is not enough, the Government must stop the roll-out of Universal Credit now.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.