- Plymouth MP raises concerns at Prime Minister’s Questions over 53 week rent payment but only 52 week Universal Credit payment
- Every five years Social Housing tenants are left having to find an additional week’s rent due to the way the days fall
- Plymouth MP says that people are at risk of going into debt because UC does not cope with this predictable calendar problem
Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, has asked the Prime Minister for assurance that urgent action will be taken to address yet another flaw in the Universal Credit system that has been flagged by Plymouth housing associations. Under the new UC structure which includes Housing Benefit element, some social housing tenants will not receive enough rent to cover the whole year due to a new fault in the UC system.
Plymouth Community Homes brought the issue to Luke’s attention highlighting that as with many Housing associations weekly rent is due on a Monday. The housing element of Universal Credit is paid on a 52 week basis, in a year like 2019 which has 53 Mondays, tenants with weekly, fortnightly or four weekly tenancies will receive one week’s less UC than their annual rent. Luke used his latest question at Prime Minister’s Question to ask the Prime Minister for action to address this latest issue with UC for tenants in Plymouth and across the country.
Since the rollout of Universal Credit many people are struggling to make ends meet, leading to an increase in rent arrears and even eviction.
Plymouth Community Homes have written to all their residents to make them aware that they will have to find this money and sent out an advisory leaflet. The Department of Work and Pensions have acknowledged that this is an issue which will impact many people receiving Universal Credit, they have said they are waiting for the Government to take action to address this, but currently are placing the burden on the Housing Associations or the tenants to cover the additional week.
The 53-week year issue will arise every five or six years because of the calculation used to convert weekly rent to a calendar monthly figure and this was recognised by the Government in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. The housing element of UC payments is calculated by multiplying the weekly rent and service charge by 52 and then dividing by 12 to produce a monthly amount. Since the roll out of UC 2019/20 is the first year this has occurred, but it will happen again in the future if no action is taken.
The MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has called on the Government to take immediate action and ensure that Universal Credit is fit for purpose and not driving more people into debt and risk of losing their homes. The switch from Housing Benefits to UC is currently leaving many people in Plymouth worse off.
“Although some people are better off on Universal Credit, many are not. We need Universal Credit to be fixed before it is rolled out any further and problems like the one I highlighted to the Prime Minister today need urgent action. It is simply not right that people risk going into debt because the Universal Credit system cannot recognise that there are some years with 53 Mondays not 52, or some months with five Mondays rather than four. We know what the calendar looks like, so why does Universal Credit fall over on such a basic error? I don’t want a single person in rented accommodation in Plymouth to lose out because of this fault with UC . The Department for Work and Pensions knows about this issue and they haven’t fixed it yet so I wanted to take concerns of social housing providers in Plymouth to the very top. Brexit may be all consuming for the Prime Minister but this has not made the other problems people face go away. I hope the PM recognises this latest issue with UC and corrects it without delay.”
Liz Phillips, Head of Income Management and Housing Operations at Plymouth Community Homes, said:
“We offer individual support to anybody going on to Universal Credit, including information about the benefit, the offer of a face-to-face meeting, support to make their claim and help with other debts they may have. If anybody, whether on Universal Credit or not, is worried about being able to pay their rent, we can similarly provide support, either from the Incomes team or the Financial team.
In particular, our Financial Inclusion Officers can provide intensive support to help people maximise their income and minimise their debts.”