Hundreds trapped in Universal Credit rent crisis

Yvonne Fovargue MP
Yvonne Fovargue MP

Almost 1,500 residents are trapped in a rent arrears crisis caused by the government’s controversial changes to the universal credit system.

A report submitted to the councillors in the borough states that the current figures of 1,400 is likely to get worse once the full roll-out begins in April.

Worryingly, rent arrears in the borough is four times higher than those not on universal credit - and the figure relates only to those living in council houses.

Critics have rounded on the benefit, which sees up to six allowances being merged into one, after reports across the UK that some were left waiting up to eight weeks for payments to be ratified.

The revelation comes as Wigan Council prepares to overhaul its advice services, to respond to an anticipated surge in demand for extra support in just over 10 weeks time.

Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue has blasted the Government, claiming universal credit is forcing more Wiganers to live under the poverty line.

She said: “I welcome the proposals by Wigan Council and I know that councillors fully understand and recognise that early advice saves money and can stop families falling into a spiral of debt.

“As universal credit rolls out later this year, I fully expect advice agencies across the country will face increased demand for their services.

“The social security system should prevent people from getting into debt, not make matters worse.

“It is contrary to the ambitions of universal credit that instead of alleviating poverty, it is going to cause it.”

In a report to the borough’s confident council scrutiny committee Kathryn Rees, the authority’s transformation assistant director, said 4,200 Wigan households had previously been affected by benefit changes targeting “under-occupation”.

The borough was a pilot area for universal credit, which is expected to be introduced to all potential claimants in the borough during April.

Ms Rees said: “Within council tenancies there are now over 1,400 universal credit claimants, with average rent arrears in these tenancies of over four times that of a ‘non universal credit’ household.

“This is placing households at risk of homelessness through court action and eviction – the situation is also similar in the private rented sector.”

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Universal credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes.

“It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.

“The majority of claimants are comfortably managing their money.”