Universal Credit warning as Angus housing chiefs keep eye on possible arrears impact

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Ripples of Universal Credit impact are already being felt on the Angus council house rent arrears account.

The recent introduction of controversial changes to the social security system has already prompted one councillor to describe it as a “train wreck”, and in the latest update on local authority efforts to chase almost 6,000 current and former tenants for arrears totalling close to £2.5 million, a senior official has said a close eye is being kept on the Universal Credit issue.

As of October 2, Angus had 2,832 current tenant arrears cases totalling £1.11m and 2,876 former tenant cases, totalling £1.29m.

Housing chief Stewart Ball told Policy and Resources committee councillors the percentage figure of 7.81 was a “significant decrease” from the 8.72% statistic reported at the beginning of the year.

“Efforts are ongoing to pursue outstanding monies and since April 2017, there have been over 13,076 actions taken, including over 3,261 visits to tenants or ex-tenants,” his report stated.

“Since April, 121 court actions have been taken.

“There have been 27 cases where the council has been awarded a decree by the court since April.

“The division are continuing to take strong action against tenants for non-payment and some tenants have been evicted.

“Approximately 12% of decrees obtained have ended with an eviction. 16 tenants have been evicted since the last report to committee, with arrears totalling £39,463.”

Turning to the issue of Universal Credit, Mr Ball added: “The caseload at this time is not having any immediate cause for concern, however, the divisions involved in collection of monies are monitoring this carefully.

“Members should be aware due to the fluctuations in income that tenants could be in and out of receipt of Universal Credit in different weeks.

“This will be difficult to monitor and report on separately as a result. Any implications from Universal Credit will, of course, reflect in the overall arrears position and indicative figures will be reported in future reports, based on availability of information.

“A snapshot of current cases shows a relatively small increase in arrears based on arrears balances from when they went on to Universal Credit to their current rent arrears.”

Following the recent introduction of the new system, Kirriemuir and Dean SNP councillor Julie Bell said she feared Universal Credit would leave people struggling to survive.

“People are going to be starting off with six week arrears for rent. It is a disaster,” she said.

“I would reiterate again, speak to housing and to the welfare rights team. Angus Council’s housing department have been working really hard to raise awareness.”