13. Universal Credit Flexibilities and Housing Element
Proposals for Universal Credit flexibilities
13.1 The Scottish Government set out its proposals for Universal Credit flexibilities in Part 2 of the consultation document.
Question - Should the choice of managed payments of rent be extended to private sector landlords in the future? Please explain why.
|Table 13.1 Should the choice of managed payments of rent be extended to private sector landlords in the future?|
|All respondents answering||156||92%||14||8%||170|
Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).
13.2 A total of 170 respondents answered this question. Most (92%) respondents thought that the choice of managed payments of rent should be extended to private sector landlords in the future. Organisations were slightly more likely than individuals to agree. There was overall support from across respondent groups who answered this question.
13.3 Further comments were provided by 147 respondents (56 individuals and 91 organisations).
13.4 The main themes emerging were:
- mitigating risks of arrears and evictions;
- equal treatment of private and social housing tenants;
- the importance of choice;
- improving access to private housing for people receiving social security; and
- the need for safeguards.
Mitigating risks of arrears and evictions
13.5 The most common reasons for supporting the extension of this choice to private sector landlords related to preventing people falling into rent arrears and the consequences of this. A large number of respondents discussed such reasons. Often respondents spoke of how some people may struggle to manage their spending, and housing related payments went towards rent.
"For some people budgeting and paying bills can be very difficult. For some this may mean they may find it difficult to ensure their rent is paid and potentially may face eviction. Having a home is a priority for all. If this can be made more secure for some by direct rent payments to all landlords then I see no reason why this cannot continue."
"This will provide households with additional budgeting options to ensure that housing costs are prioritised over other expenditures."
The Salvation Army
13.6 There was some concern that with the move from Housing Benefit to Universal Credit, more people would be at risk of falling into arrears. Respondents explained that this was likely to have impacts on individuals and families already facing significant challenges, as well as landlords and wider services.
"The rollout of Universal Credit ( UC) in Scotland has caused a substantial number of CAB clients to fall into rent arrears and is one of the most common issues related to Universal Credit."
Citizens Advice Scotland
Equal treatment of private and social housing tenants
13.7 Many respondents said that people renting in the private sector should be offered the same choice as those renting from social landlords. Sometimes respondents emphasised the growing size of the private sector in Scotland, and the importance of ensuring that people renting in this sector had improved rights. A few suggested that certain groups of people are more likely to be using private rented accommodation, and they should not be disadvantaged.
"Landlords and tenants in the private rented sector should be given the same rights as those in the social rented sector. It is simply unfair that private rented tenants don't have the same rights as social rented tenants."
" SAL supports this proposal under the new devolved powers as we consider that all tenants should have the same rights to managed payments regardless of whether they are renting in the private or social rented sectors."
Scottish Association of Landlords
"Disabled people's housing choices are severely limited due to lack of accessible housing and may not have the option of renting from a social landlord."
Glasgow Disability Alliance
The importance of choice
13.8 Some respondents reinforced the importance of ensuring that this is a choice for tenants - not something that would be forced on them. However, a few also suggested that this might be an option for all privately rented tenants.
"Where the client wishes to do so. They should also be able to change this at any point should they wish to."
Parenting across Scotland
13.9 A few respondents highlighted that there can be a stigma attached to receiving benefits, and this can make it difficult to secure a rental with some landlords. This is one reason that tenants may not wish to receive benefits in this way.
Improving access to private housing for people receiving social security
13.10 Some respondents suggested that by more readily allowing payments to be made to landlords, this would encourage landlords to rent to people receiving social security. Respondents reported that because of current issues and concerns, private sector landlords are reluctant or refuse to rent to people receiving benefits.
"…Choice in the lower end of the private sector market needs to be increased and the certainty of rent payments might make this more attractive to landlords."
East Ayrshire Council
"Some private sector landlords are wary of accepting homeless households as tenants and until now one of the inducements that we could offer was that we could arrange for the Housing Benefit element of the rent to be paid directly to the landlord. This inducement is threatened by the introduction of Universal Credit and the difficult and uncertainty over Alternative Payment Arrangements."
The need for safeguards
13.11 Some respondents highlighted the need to take account of the comparative lack of regulation within the private sector, and potential issues with more direct payments to landlords. They raised concerns about landlords perhaps putting people under pressure to ask for direct payments to them. And a few (including those who disagreed) made more general comments about unscrupulous practices. It was suggested that direct payments to landlords might only be made available where tenants were renting from registered landlords, or those that operate safe deposit schemes.
"Given that the private sector is less regulated than the social rented sector, however, safeguards must be put in place to ensure tenants are not pressured into direct payment by a landlord."
Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (The ALLIANCE)
"Would not support paying rent direct to private landlords without strict controls in place as there is potential for abuse."
Scottish Disability Equality Forum
13.12 A few respondents (mainly local authority respondents) emphasised that the Scottish Government needs to focus on securing payments for social landlords - with a few suggesting this is a greater priority than the private sector. A few of these respondents felt that it wasn't clear what issue the Scottish Government was seeking to address through this measure, or called for clarity around the outcomes being sought.
"Fairness to all landlords would indicate that direct payments should be considered for all landlords. However, as priority the protection direct payments offers should be definitely introduced for Social Sector landlords."
"But maximum focus should be on getting the UC Housing Cost element to the Registered Social Landlords."
Grampian Housing Association
Question - Should payments of Universal Credit be split between members of a household? Please explain why.
|Table 13.2 Should payments of Universal Credit be split between members of a household?|
|All respondents answering||166||88%||22||12%||188|
Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).
13.13 A total of 188 respondents answered the closed part of this question. Most respondents (88%) felt that payments of Universal Credit should be split between members of a household. Organisations were more likely to agree than individuals, with almost all organisations agreeing payments should be split.
13.14 Further comments were provided by 166 respondents (73 individuals and 93 organisations).
Reasons for answering 'yes'
13.15 Overwhelmingly, the main reason for supporting split payments was that this is required to prevent power imbalances within relationships. A large number of respondents made points related to this.
13.16 Often, respondents emphasised that money can be used as a tool in domestic abuse situations. Respondents often emphasised the impact that this has on women in particular. There was great concern that the approach to Universal Credit would effectively mean more men receive benefits on behalf of the household, and that this would exacerbate existing problems. The Engender response - which was referred to and supported by other respondents - expresses the view that the changes under Universal Credit represent a regressive step for women's rights. For many, this was a point of principle. Respondents at times emphasised that people with other protected characteristics or experiencing disadvantage would be especially affected.
"The current UK policy, to pay joint awards to one individual in a couple, is discriminatory and regressive. Scotland has certain opportunities with new powers over social security to chart a different course from the UK's damaging 'welfare reform' agenda. However, the Scottish Government's pledge that "new powers will be founded on dignity and respect" will be undermined from the outset if social security cannot be accessed equally by women. . ." Engender
"This is a necessity. If a partner has an addiction (gambling, alcohol, drugs etc.) and is in sole control of UC payments, then the rest of the family may suffer from a lack of cash to buy essentials."
13.17 Some individuals shared their own lived experience of abuse and could illustrate the impact the changes to Universal Credit may have, and to emphasise the importance of some form of split payments.
"When I was growing up we partly relied on my mum's partner's income for living. He was abusive and controlling, and as such we would go without electricity or gas for days, and sometimes we wouldn't be able to eat. I know that if he had been in control of my mum's benefits things would have been a lot worse."
"As I can testify to, ethically held power should never be assumed. Even when couples present as equal and respectful there can be an undercurrent of coercive control that goes completely unnoticed."
Reasons for answering 'no'
13.18 The main reason for not supporting the approach, identified by some respondents, was that this might make the approach more complex or costly to administer.
13.19 Respondents often went on to discuss elements covered by the following questions on split payments. These have not been analysed in detail here but included concerns about how the system might work in practice, and at times strong views on approaches to splitting Universal Credit between members of a household.
Question - If yes, please indicate if you think the default position should be automatic payments to individuals (with the option to choose a joint payment) or automatic household payments (with the option to choose individual payments).
|Table 13.3 - If yes, please indicate if you think the default position should be automatic payments to individuals (with the option to choose a joint payment) or automatic household payments (with the option to choose individual payments).|
|Automatic a), with the option to choose a joint payment||Automatic household payments with the option to choose individual payments|
|Total respondents answering||120||74%||42||26%||162|
Note: One respondent had selected both options, and we have therefore included them in both columns. Total number of respondents to the question is 161.
13.20 A total of 161 respondents answered this question. The majority of respondents (74%) agreed with option a - that the default position should be automatic payments to individuals, with the option to choose a joint payment. There was overall support for this option from most respondent groups answering the question. The most support for option b came from some local authority respondents and some housing and homelessness organisations
13.21 38 Degrees submitted a petition stating: "We are calling for the Scottish Government to guarantee individual payments by default under the new Scottish social security system. This means that crucial benefits, including Universal Credit, get paid to individuals rather than households." It included 3,052 signatures.
Question - If yes, how do you think payments should be split? For example, 50/50 between members of a couple, or weighted towards the person who is the main carer if the claim includes dependent children?
13.22 In total, 142 respondents answered this question (65 individuals and 77 organisations). Because almost all respondents to the earlier question on the principle of splitting had agreed with the approach, almost all the comments discussed here came from respondents who were supportive. Responses to this question varied in terms of their views and complexity. At times, respondents chose one simple option, but at other times respondents were less clear, or supported particular approaches in different circumstances. Others made more general comments about how this decision should be taken.
13.23 The main themes emerging were:
- more priority for carers;
- an approach based on individual need or circumstances;
- support for 50 / 50 split; and
- splitting based on individual entitlements.
More priority for carers
13.24 A large number of respondents mentioned the importance of giving some aspect of priority to carers where there are children. Where comments were more developed, respondents suggested that this might mainly be for benefits relating to children and their care.
"I think the main carer of dependent children should receive all the CHILD component automatically. I also think each adult should receive an element of Individual payment so that no one is completely financially dependent on another."
". . . We would support the approach that payments should be made with a weight towards the main carer. It is likely that this individual would be the one that incurs the greater part of the everyday costs of raising children and as such this is where monies be primarily directed."
Rights Advice Scotland
An approach based on individual need or circumstances
13.25 Some respondents emphasised the importance of taking account of individual circumstances. It was suggested that decisions about how payments might be split could be based on choices made by individuals or families, perhaps through discussions with a member of social security staff or other professionals, or through an assessment of evidence on that family's situation.
"I think the family should be able to choose, with advice from a professional (social worker)."
"If both joint claimants agree to split payments then it should be discussed with a UC agent or work coach how the payment should be split ( e.g. 50/50, 70/30)."
Angus Community Planning Partnership, in co-operation with the Angus Welfare Reform Group
Support for 50/50 split
13.26 Some respondents proposed a 50 / 50 split, although most of these suggested this should primarily be in situations where there are no children or benefits relating to children.
Splitting based on individual entitlements
13.27 More detailed responses highlighted that needs and entitlements are often complex. To take account of this, some respondents proposed that payments should be split based on each individual's entitlements or responsibilities. Suggestions included paying the tenant housing elements, paying child related benefits to the main carer, and splitting other payments between household members, as appropriate. Respondents viewed this as an approach that would reflect individual needs, and not unfairly disadvantage individuals, and primary carers in particular. A few argued this was a more modern, sophisticated and appropriate approach to benefit entitlement - which doesn't make assumptions about how a household might share its finances at a household level.
"If possible, one solution would be to sub-divide the UC payments in line with the different elements, including who has the main caring responsibility."
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
"…Ideally payment would be split in accordance with the individual entitlement of adults in the household . . ."
Question - Do you have any other comments about how the Scottish Government's powers over Universal Credit administrative flexibilities will be delivered?
13.28 In total, 108 respondents answered this question (42 individuals and 66 organisations). Some explained they didn't have any further comments. Often, respondents emphasised points made in relation to other questions, and these are not analysed in detail here.
13.29 Three key themes emerged:
- support for more frequent payments;
- concerns about the time taken to process Universal Credit - with respondents suggesting this can take around 6 weeks for new applications; and
- general support for proposals to make it possible to pay housing elements direct to landlords - including registered social landlords.
More frequent payments
13.30 Many respondents voiced their support for more frequent payments. Often they supported the proposed option for two weekly payments, although weekly payments or offering a wider range of choices were also suggested.
"Having the benefit paid every 2 weeks instead of monthly would be helpful to those who find it difficult to manage their finances."
"People who have learning disabilities frequently tell us that they would prefer to be paid their main living cost benefit on a fortnightly basis rather than monthly."
Concerns about processing times
13.31 Some respondents raised concerns about the time taken to process new applications or changes under the current Universal Credit system. Because Universal Credit is paid monthly and in arrears, they reported this can mean extreme hardship for families and individuals waiting for a payment. It was suggested that the Scottish Government should explore options for addressing this issue, possibly through an additional benefit.
"The current delays between making a claim and receiving the first payment of Universal Credit causes pronounced hardship for families, increases demand on the Scottish Welfare Fund, and is frankly unacceptable. . .The Scottish Government should investigate using the power to top up benefits or create new discretionary payments to plug this gap."
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
"The greater challenge relates to the long period which Universal Credit claimants wait before they get their first payment ….This causes immense hardship to tenants and creates debt / arrears from the outset which can be difficult to escape from, and this obviously has implications for social landlords too."
Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations
Support for direct payments to landlords - including social landlords
13.32 Some respondents took the opportunity to reinforce their support for proposals to allow direct payments of the housing element of Universal Credit to landlords, including registered social landlords and local authorities. It was felt that this would help people manage their money more effectively, and prevent rent arrears and associated hardship.
"Local authorities and RSLs are concerned about the impacts of UC on rent collection and the potential for large build-up of rent arrears as numbers and complexity of need increases in UC rollout. The Scottish flexibilities to allow direct managed payments to social landlords have been viewed as important to mitigate these impacts and priority should be given to bringing these in as soon as possible."
13.33 A wide range of specific points were made by a few respondents. These included calls for further guidance and clarity, general concerns about the complexity of administration, requests for adequate support and advice, and points about the negative impacts of Universal Credit on individuals, families and service providers.
Universal Credit housing element
13.34 The Scottish Government set out its proposals for the housing element of Universal Credit in Part 2 of the consultation document.
Question - Do you have any comments about the Scottish Government's powers over the housing element of Universal Credit?
13.35 In total, 138 people answered this question (59 individuals and 79 organisations). Some respondents said they didn't have further comments to make.
13.36 The main areas discussed were:
- support for abolishing the bedroom tax;
- local Housing Allowance;
- 18-21 year olds; and
- mitigating the impact of welfare reform for particular groups.
Support for abolishing the bedroom tax
13.37 The most common remarks expressed support for the abolition of the bedroom tax (although a few queried how this would be achieved), and the relationship with Discretionary Housing Payments.
"Scottish Governments proposals to "scrap the bedroom tax" was welcomed by the focus group. "The sooner the better" was a prevalent comment by tenants."
Edinburgh Tenants Federation
"Cyrenians welcomes Scottish Government commitments to using new powers to ameliorate the bedroom tax imposed by Westminster and look forward to the technical consultation as to how this will operate."
"I applaud the Scottish Government's decision to ban the bedroom tax for those in receipt of UC."
Local Housing Allowance
13.38 There was particular concern about recent and planned changes to the Local Housing Allowance, and the impact this is likely to have on people receiving social security, and landlords. Some respondents called for the Scottish Government to look at this policy area, with a few stating that it is as significant - if not more so - than the bedroom tax. Respondents expressed specific concern about the shared accommodation rate for individuals under 35, and the overall cap being introduced.
"For private tenants the reduced level of the LHA is often the major barrier to housing affordability . . . while it is understandable that the SSSC will be the first priority for the Scottish Government, given the political importance this issue has taken on, as a next step it should turn its attention to the LHA."
"The potential to mitigate some of the impact of the LHA cap in the social sector is one of those areas where some consideration should be given to how the Scottish social security system can work positively to prevent and reduce the risk of homelessness."
The Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers
18-21 year olds
13.39 There was also concern about the removal of automatic entitlement to the housing element of Universal Credit for young people (aged between 18 and 21), with a few respondents supporting Scottish Government commitments to deal with this.
Mitigating the impact of welfare reform for particular groups
13.40 Some respondents suggested that the Scottish Government should use its flexibilities to support particular groups of people who are disadvantaged by changes to Universal Credit. In addition to comments relating to individuals under 35 and those aged 18-21, other groups included:
- disabled people - particularly in relation to adaptation costs;
- people with separated families - for example, situations where single fathers are unable to accommodate their children for overnight stays in their home;
- people living in temporary or supported accommodation - who are likely to be especially affected by changes;
- care leavers;
- homeless people; and
"It is also important that the Scottish Government seek to address the inadequate support for some groups of private tenants, particularly younger single people and those with minority care of children."
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
"We would recommend giving particular consideration to care leavers living in supported accommodation."
13.41 A few respondents raised more general points about the approach to Universal Credit or the relationship with DWP. This included highlighting the need for further discussion and consultation - particularly on how systems might work in practice and implications for wider spending of a more generous approach to social security than that taken by the UK Government.
Email: Trish Brady-Campbell