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Levenmouth rent arrears soar by £200,000 as a ‘direct result’ of universal credit

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Rent arrears in one area of Fife have soared by more than £200,000 as a direct result of Universal Credit, it has been claimed.

Fife Council said 1,161 tenants in Levenmouth were behind with their rent by September, after taking receipt of the benefit which was introduced in the region in December 2017.

Officers said action was being taken to help those having difficulty with payments and a £1 million universal credit mitigation fund is being administered.

A specialist Universal Credit officer has also been appointed to provide advice to both tenants and staff.

Levenmouth housing manager Peter Nicol said two thirds of the tenants in arrears were receiving the UK Government-funded benefit.

“There is clear evidence that welfare reforms and the introduction of Universal Credit has negatively impacted on arrears across the area,” he said.

“Quarter two figures show that to date, 1,161 of our tenants have been directly affected following the introduction of universal credit with arrears increasing as a direct result by £204,126.36.”

Fife Council’s SNP co-leader David Alexander said it was clear many people on Universal Credit were having to choose between paying their rent or feeding their children.

“There is a mood out there that people with financial difficulties just can’t budget but if you have no money for five to six weeks, you have no money to budget with,” he said.

“Rent is one of the first things to go if you can’t feed your family.”

Mr Alexander described the £1m fund from the Scottish Government as a “godsend” for those in need and added: “The more we get to people as soon as they have a hint of rent arrears, the better.”

Mr Nicol said officers were being guided towards “priority cases” at an early stage thanks to the introduction of a new computer system.

“Our staff continue to increase the offer of tenancy assistance to help our tenants manage finances and budgeting.”

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “It’s misleading to attribute rent arrears directly to Universal Credit because many tenants join the benefit with existing arrears.

“Nobody needs to wait five weeks to receive as payment as people can get paid urgently if they need it.

“We spend £95 billion a year on working age benefits across the country with Universal Credit supporting more than 2.8 million.”

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