Rent Arrears Swell with Universal Credit.

Image result for universal credit rent arrears

Universal Credit: More and More Demands…

One of the ideas behind government welfare ‘reforms’ is to make people more “responsible”.

We now have to pay a percentage of our Council Tax, because that makes us “responsible”, or to put it more simply, it is thought to make us consider how Councils allocate money. In this case a right-wing idea, that poor people voting over public spending is a bad idea because we will use our power to tax our betters, is behind this. As ‘taxpayers’ ourselves we will think twice about forking out for the elderly, and public services more widely and, they hope, vote Tory to keep Council Budgets in order. Bad councils, that is Labour ones, will suffer electoral reverses if they do not follow the penny pinching and contracting out ways of the Conservative crooks who still run many councils.

The fact that this scheme costs money to collect, that poor people fall into arrears, and that not a single penny has gone to compensate benefit claimants for what is in reality a hefty cut in our income, is ignored.

Universal Credit operates with another kind of enforced “responsibility”.

People pay their rent themselves, rather than having it deducted and sent to the properties’ owners.

Common sense would have told the designers of this system that far from ‘teaching people how to budget’ it would be the occasion for many to fall into arrears.

And so it has come to pass…..

Almost 90 per cent of tenants in receipt of Universal Credit are in rent arrears Daily Record.

South Lanarkshire Council confirmed this week that 633, 87 per cent, of UC tenants owe £525,000.

Almost 90 per cent of council tenants in receipt of the controversial Universal Credit (UC) benefit are in rent arrears totalling £525,000.

South Lanarkshire Council confirmed this week that 633, 87 per cent, of UC tenants are struggling to pay for housing.

The local authority said it was doing everything possible to assist people to repay the debt and avoid losing their home, as Gerard Killen MP called on the government to halt the full roll out of the benefit.

Currently offered to a limited number of people, UC replaces six of the main means tested benefits including housing benefit and sees claimants receive all of their benefits in one single payment monthly in arrears.

It means tenants are, for the first time, responsible for paying their rent as opposed to their housing benefit being paid direct to their landlord.

The Residential Landlords Association quickly got a whiff of this and has set the following up,

In July Councils were already flagging up their concern.

Councils losing £6.7m in Universal Credit arrears

The saga of Universal credit looks far from over.

Ipswich Unemployed Action

‘My picture is proof that healthcare professionals lie in benefit assessments’

A furious disability benefit claimant has produced what she says is the clearest evidence yet that healthcare professionals working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are writing dishonest assessment reports.

CeaJay Clem, from Gloucestershire, has chronic discoid lupus, which has caused a significant facial disfigurement (pictured).

But despite the impact of the condition on her skin, the doctor who assessed her in January wrote in her report that her complexion was “normal” and that she “looked well”.

Clem contacted Disability News Service (DNS) after reading about more than 200 cases in which claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) have described how their assessors from Atos and Capita produced dishonest assessment reports, which have led to them losing their benefits or having them cut.

Clem’s reassessment was carried out by another contractor, Maximus, and was testing her eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).

Because of her condition, she is unable to wear make-up and is highly sensitive to all UV light – which is used in nearly all work places – but she also has complex post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma and other health conditions, and uses a mobility scooter because she cannot walk or stand for long.

She had previously been in the ESA support group, but as a result of what she says was a completely dishonest report, she lost all eligibility for ESA in February, even though the assessor admitted that she had “current firm detailed plans for self-harm”.

She is now awaiting a date for an appeal tribunal.

She said her photograph and report provided “proof positive” that assessors were lying in their reports.

Clem said her report was littered with other lies and inaccuracies.

The reports she has been sent refer to her “skin problem”, “skin condition” and “skin complaint”, and downplay the seriousness of the condition, even though she cannot leave the house for more than 15 minutes without her skin burning.

She said she was “absolutely mortified that a medical professional would lie and downplay my conditions.

“I was expecting to fail on the assessment, it happens, but fail due to deliberate lies? That shook me to my boots and was a total emotional crusher for me.

“It put me into a deep depression and such a state of high anxiety I didn’t know which way to turn. I just wanted to explode.

“I am a very strong-minded woman and it takes a huge amount to upset me and this has almost broken me.

“I dread to think how people are coping with their situation when they maybe don’t have the same strength as me, or have simply just run out of strength.”

Although the decision to find her fit for work was covered widely in the media earlier this year, those stories did not highlight the claims of dishonesty in the assessment report.

A DWP spokesman declined to comment on the honesty of the assessment – as the department has done repeatedly with similar stories – or to say whether DWP would look again at her case.

But he said in a statement: “We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers.

“As you know, all the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.

“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.

“Decisions are backed by evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.

“Ms Clem has appealed her WCA assessment and this will now be reviewed by an independent tribunal.”

Maximus failed to respond to a request for a comment.


‘Austerity causes a lot of suffering’: record number of food banks report stock shortage

Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank network, says supplies dwindling this summer as welfare sanctions bite

A volunteer at a Trussell Trust food bank in Wandsworth, south-west London, prepares a parcel of donated items.
 A volunteer at a Trussell Trust food bank in Wandsworth, south-west London, prepares a parcel of donated items. 

In a storage room at a food bank in Kingston, south-west London, the manager raises his hand above his head to show how high the crates of canned fruit get in October. Today, the stack barely reaches his knees.

Paul Pickhaver says the facility receives fewer donations in summer, so whatever comes in goes straight out of the door for distribution. In recent weeks, it has run low on instant coffee, tinned vegetables, fruit juice, squash and many other items.

This food bank is not alone. A record number have been forced to ask for donations this summer after running out of some items, according to Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank network.

The charity said 42 of its centres – about 10% of its network – released an urgent appeal for items on social media, or through local media, in the past three months.

Stock shortages came into sharp focus in July when an independent facility, Eastside food bank in Swansea, South Wales, ran out of supplies. Volunteers who run the food bank from Mount Zion Baptist church in Bonymaen made an appeal for stock. The callout prompted a tenfold rise in donations.

West Somerset Food Cupboard, an independent food bank in south-west England, made an urgent appeal for baked beans this weekThe coordinator, Ann Gibbs, said a surge in demand had triggered the request.

In Nottingham, low supplies were reported at Mount Zion food bank, in Radford. It has also noted a surge of donations since its appeal.

James Milton, operations support manager at Trussell Trust, attributed the increase this summer to a rise in year-on-year referrals.

“While none of the food banks in our network have run out of food, we know many of them are worried about stock levels of certain shortage items,” he said.

“The only reason food banks were able to stop people going hungry was because local people had generously donated. Food banks rely on communities giving food.”

Rev Chris Lewis, chair of Eastside food bank, said changes to the benefits system were also a contributory factor. He said food banks were facing more pressure than ever, pointing to a 40% rise in referrals in the year from May 2016.

“People are being referred to us because of benefit sanctions and because of quite long delays in changes to benefits,” Lewis said.

This year Trussell Trust said the chaotic introduction of universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare overhaul, had increased food bank use. The charity said many claimants were unable to afford meals when their benefits were delayed.

He noted that many food banks around the country were also struggling. He said of his facility: “On the first Friday of the holidays we got to a critically low level, which would have wiped out our stock the following Friday if we got no more in … we wouldn’t have been able to give people enough ingredients to make a meal.”

He has been surprised by the response to the appeal: “We will be all right for a while now, but we are constantly trying to expand our support network, and we are doing things like getting collection boxes and getting messages into local schools.”

Milton said food banks were an emergency service and the Trussell Trust was doing all it could to support those in need, but warned: “We do not have the food stock or volunteer capacity to solve structural problems alone.”

Many food banks have been experiencing shortages this summer.
 Many food banks have been experiencing shortages this summer. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

He said: “We are deeply concerned by the continued increase in food bank use. The impact of policies like universal credit raises important questions … about the extent to which frontline volunteer-run groups should have to step in to help in the absence of other practical help.”

Pickhaver, in Kingston, said social media was a useful tool for alerting the public to stock shortages. “Normally, if you look at the list of items we have, you could come here and pick up any of them – but we cannot do that at the moment,” he said.

“But if we could say to people: ‘Don’t give us baked beans’ – that’s where social media comes in, because it tells people what to give.”

Lewis said the lack of supplies this summer had highlighted the extent of hidden food poverty. “It’s not going to go away … Austerity is causing a lot of suffering,” he said.

“I’ve seen a mother weep when we gave her a few bags of basic food … I also call on the government to address the growing problem. In the meantime, please keep supporting us.”


More than 5,000 sick and disabled benefit claimants have been sanctioned for 6 MONTHS

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed the extent of punishments used against people on Employment and Support Allowance

More than 5,000 sick and disabled people have had their benefits sanctioned for at least 6 months, new figures show.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed the extent of punishments used against people on disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance.

ESA is slowly replacing the ageing Incapacity Benefit and is now paid to 2.4million people.

Between December 2012 and December 2016, 71,543 ESA claimants have been sanctioned – which normally involves stopping their benefits.

Just over half of those claimants (40,288) had their benefits sanctioned for less than four weeks and the average length of a sanction was 28 days.

But 5,739 suffered a sanction for 27 weeks or more.

More than 70,000 people on ESA have been sanctioned since 2012

Another 6,579 claimants were sanctioned for between 14 and 26 weeks, statistics published yesterday show.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “It is abhorrent to see the Tories sanction thousands of sick and disabled people for up to six months, depriving them of much needed financial support and causing them further stress.

“The figures confirm that disabled people are not receiving the proper support from Jobcentres to navigate the complex social security system.”

Sanctions are only made against ESA claimants deemed fit for “work-related activity”, not those in the more serious support group, a DWP official said.

ESA sanctions are made for a fixed period of one, two or four weeks.

But they are open-ended and carry on indefinitely if people are still unable or refuse to take part in ‘work-related activity’.

The DWP, run by Tory minister David Gauke, insists sanctions are not widespread (Image: Getty Images Europe)

DWP officials insist this means no one will be sanctioned for six months if they play by the rules.

But campaigners argue assessments that deem people fit for work-related activity in the first place are flawed.

The vast majority of ESA sanctions – more than 90% since December 2015 – have been a punishment for people refusing to take part in that activity.

Meanwhile the rate paid to the work-related activity group has axed and made the same as Jobseekers’ Allowance – a cut of £30 a week.

Yesterday’s figures showed the number of people on Jobseekers’ Allowance or ESA being sanctioned is falling.

But Labour’s Debbie Abrahams said Jobcentres are not providing enough support (Image: Daily Mirror)

However the number of sanctions for people on Universal Credit, the all-in-one system that’s slowly being claimed by more and more people as it replaces the old benefits – hit an all-time monthly high of 9,119 in December 2016.

More than 100,000 Universal Credit claimants have now been sanctioned since August 2015, 2,313 of them for six months or more.

A DWP spokesman said: “Only a very small proportion of people on ESA are sanctioned every month – just 0.6%.

“ESA sanctions are designed to encourage people to fulfil their requirements, so they remain in place until someone re-engages with their work coach or employment support.

“It’s only fair to ask claimants to do their part and there is a well-established system of payments available for people who need support to meet their immediate and most essential needs.”

‘High use’ of food banks after benefits sanctions


Now NHS cuts are stripping basic medicines from the poor

The government tries to deny cuts exist. But some hapless GPs are being forced to stop providing everyday medications to those unable to pay for them

Thursday 17 August 2017 11.23 BSTLast modified on Thursday 17 August 2017 16.02 BST

The retreat of the health service is stealthy and haphazard, as a creeping postcode lottery of cuts gradually erodes the “national” in NHS. IVFhip and knee operations are being cut back randomly in some regions. In some places patients can only get one cataract fixed: seeing with one eye is enough.

Waiting lists for hospital care just topped 4 million people, waiting times lengthening as A&E admissions rise means fewer planned operations, with extreme variations by hospital. The NHS is ordered to cut an impossible £22bn by 2020 – but there is no national instruction as to what. Politically, it’s easier to leave local decision-makers to take the blame.

Little by little services vanish. Prof Azeem Majeed, head of primary care and public health at Imperial College and a Lambeth GP, has just blown the whistle in the British Medical Journalon the latest withdrawal of a service: many clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), including his own, are banning GPs from prescribing anything that can be bought over the counter. Bristol, Lincolnshire, Dudley, Telford and Essex are among many others issuing the same edict.

At first glance it makes sense not to prescribe what most people can get for themselves, until you consider poorer patients who can’t afford the 22 drugs now banned for prescribing. Majeed says “Low-income families often can’t afford ibuprofen, or gluten-free products for coeliac disease sufferers. A single mother on low pay with two children can’t afford the £10 it would cost for nit treatment.”

Pain relief will be denied for those suffering headache, backache, toothache, migraine, fever or those needing antihistamines for hayfever, treatments for thrush or eye infections. With food banks handing out over a million emergency food kits and Unicef reporting that 10% of UK children suffer “severe food insecurity”, basic but essential over-the-counter medicines are beyond the budgets of households who struggle to provide meals.

It is, say the CCGs, a waste of doctors’ time to be handing out easily available treatments. Majeed agrees, but points out that there was a special system for the poor: the minor ailment scheme. It allowed patients already entitled to free prescriptions to access certain free over-the-counter treatments on the NHS from a pharmacist without seeing a GP. This year these are being cut back in his own area and many others. Minor ailments don’t feel “minor” to those in great pain.

NHS England estimates £400m can be saved by these cuts, though it is left to local CCGs to impose, randomly. But Majeed doubts that saving. Instead he points to where the NHS really could save large sums on prescribing by negotiating a better price for generic drugs from monopoly suppliers. “The NHS is very bad at tackling this.” He gives the example of Tamoxifen, a breast cancer treatment, which he says, cost just 10p a tablet in 2011 but rose to £1.21 last year.

Britain’s extreme poverty and inequality needs to be taken into account by the NHS: health inequalities are growing in sickness and early death rates. Few will dispute a new ban on GPsprescribing malaria medicines and some travel vaccines: those who can afford long-distance travel can afford these. But the ban on all over-the-counter medicines comes with a screed of cant about the importance of promoting “self-care”.

The British Medical Association says local CCGs have no right to impose this limit, as it breaches GPs’ contracts. Majeed says of course prescribing needs to be constantly reviewed, “But that should be done nationally, not just ad hoc. If each CCG has its own list of drugs there will be postcode prescribing.”

Equal access was the founding idea of the NHS, written into the NHS constitution. Until now, every health secretary has tried to iron out local variation. But abandoning the “national” in the NHS was the intention of Andrew Lansley’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act, a deliberate fragmentation by tendering and intense competition, encouraging private providers and devolving priorities to the whim of local commissioners.

While the government still tries to deny NHS cuts, despite a real decline in per capita funding by next year, it’s much easier politically to avoid ever announcing what services will be withdrawn, but to leave it to hapless CCGs locally. Recently I reported on the vanishing podiatry service, forcing most people to go private – and causing 135 avoidable diabetic amputations a week. Everywhere you look, around the margins of the NHS, services are shrinking back. Now the poorest are being denied basic pain relief and other treatments that most regard as absolutely essential treatments in everyday life.


Crunch time for Universal Credit!

The pace of the roll-out of ‘full’ Universal Credit is set to ramp up in a few months’ time.


Jo King shakes her head in desperation as Vivaldi’s The Four Seasonscroaks from her phone speaker. She has heard it countless times since she first called the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Universal Credit (UC) helpline.

“I’ve rung up four times already,” she explains over the garbled concerto. “If my Universal Credit is not there by the close of play, then my direct debits will bounce.”

Ms King, who was born blind and struggles with an array of physical and mental health problems, was told it would be in her account by 2pm. It’s now 3pm and there is no sign of the money. She could be fined £48 by her bank, which is a frightening sum for someone who needs every penny to pay for her care, bills and food.

“I won’t have much left out of my benefit if I’m charged for the direct debits,” she says when Inside Housing meets her at her homely council flat on the Newbiggin Hall Estate in Newcastle. “I will have to try to put something off until next month. Or it will be less food, probably.”

Universal Credit-Waiting Days Exceptions

Eventually, she is passed to a manager from the DWP’s Grimsby call centre, who promises she will get her money. But Ms King, 43, has every reason to doubt his word. The month we meet, the DWP has already failed to pay her rent directly to Your Homes Newcastle, Newcastle City Council’s 28,000-home ALMO.

Usually under UC, the money goes to the tenant, but tenants are able to make special arrangements to have their rent paid directly to their landlords. “I’ve not had one payment on time, or paid or worked out correctly,” she says, fiddling with her dark hair anxiously.

Ms King started receiving UC –which combines six benefits, including housing benefit, into a single payment – last year. Previously it only applied to single, unemployed adults. The so-called ‘full’ version is now being rolled out to families with children and disabled people.

Since then, Ms King has frequently fallen behind with her rent. “I would get calls from my rent officer all the time saying ‘have you been paid the rent, because we haven’t been paid the rent?’” she says.

She has twice been left without any UC. Instead she relied on emergency food parcels and her disability benefit, which is supposed to pay for her care. “The food bank dropped stuff off for me. And they made me smile because they gave me a bunch of flowers,” she says, still grateful for such a small act of kindness.

Rising pressures

Ms King’s plight is not unusual. Across Newcastle – the government’s official test bed for UC – 86% of the 2,271 council tenants currently claiming UC are in rent arrears, owing a total of £2.5m. Before UC was rolled out, only 53% were in arrears.

Yet in October, the roll-out of full UC is set to increase from five to 50 areas a month. By 2022, more than seven million households are expected to be in receipt of UC. This will include half of all families with children and nearly 60% of households where an adult is disabled or has a long-term health condition.

Nick Forbes, leader of Labour-run Newcastle City Council, warns UC is pushing people into debt and destitution. “We are having to pick up the pieces of a badly designed and badly thought through system, which is leaving people, who are often vulnerable, in serious financially difficulties,” he says. “And that is not acceptable.”

“We are having to pick up the pieces of a badly designed and badly thought through system.”

Rather than evicting tenants waiting for payment, the council is offering advice and support, and, occasionally, emergency payments and food. “Staff in our customer service centre have tins of food in cupboards because people are presenting having not eaten for three days,” says Mr Forbes.

But the council cannot stop private landlords taking matters into their own hands. “We know a number of people are starting to run up significant arrears in the private rented sector,” he says. “And that increases their risk of homelessness through eviction.”

Nor can it keep bailing tenants out for ever. Newcastle has had to cut £221m over the past six years and needs to find another £70m worth of savings by 2020. “Over the next two years we won’t be able to provide the same level of support,” says Mr Forbes.

Rent arrears pose other problems for the council: less money for housing maintenance and new homes. “It is yet another pressure on the Housing Revenue Account at a time when there is a huge drive to build new housing,” remarks Mr Forbes.

The experience of other areas with full UC is equally troubling. A survey of councils and ALMOs by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) found in July that 73% of tenants were in arrears, owing an average of £772.21, up from £611.73 a year earlier. This is far higher than the 31% of tenants in arrears under the housing benefit system.

A separate Citizens Advice survey in July found that 57% of UC claimants seeking its advice had been forced to borrow money while waiting for their first payment, which takes at least six weeks. It also showed that 39% were waiting longer, and 11% were waiting more than 10 weeks.

Evidence of hardship caused by these delays is easy to find. A report for The Trussell Trust, which runs food banks across the UK, found in April that food banks in areas with full UC roll-out had seen a 17% average increase in referrals, more than double the national average increase of 7%.

In the West End of Newcastle, there are already people queuing outside The Trussell Trust food bank at the Church of the Venerable Bede when Inside Housing visits at 9.30am, 30 minutes ahead of its opening. There is a young man in sportswear, an older woman and a young couple holding empty shopping bags. They look sheepish and apprehensive in the morning drizzle – nothing like the Benefits Street stereotypes.

Inside, washed-out light comes through a broken window. The hall was broken into the week before but staff managed to open the food bank, which featured in Ken Loach’s acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake.