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There’s still a long way to go with welfare reform

While we are starting to head in the right direction with welfare reform there’s still a long way to go, writes Sandra Brydon, Director of Home Group in Scotland.

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Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently highlighted that the greater availability of affordable social housing in Scotland has kept our poverty rate down, (at 19% compared to 22% in England). Its analysis shows the key role of housing on people’s lives and how types of housing, and the lower cost of housing, in particular, in the social rented sector, means that poverty is significantly lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK overall.

We know that housing is the biggest outgoing for most families, so the availability of affordable rented accommodation does have an impact on poverty figures. It’s a sad fact that poverty in Scotland is rising, with almost one in five people in Scotland living in poverty, and, for children, the situation is worse, with one in four in poverty. We know, from our own customers, that some find it difficult and are worried about the future.

We support the SFHA’s six Universal Credit asks. We welcome two recent changes – the move to a new payment system for Managed Payments to Landlords (and Scottish Choices Direct Payment to Landlords), which will mean that the landlord will get their payment the same day as the claimant gets their money. The second is the end to the working age benefit freeze in April. Sadly, whilst this is a positive move, with index linking being restored, there are no plans to restore benefits to their original level, so they are only going to be worth just over 90% of their 2015 value.

We must ensure that people receive the right amount of money at the point that they need it. The five-week wait must end – this is supported across so many parts of society. Can we all sign up to the Trussell Trust’s #FiveWeeksTooLong campaign?

While the Scottish Government’s budget sets out an increase to the Scottish Welfare Fund, the fund has failed to rise with inflation since its introduction in 2013. The addition of £3.5 million still represents a real terms reduction to its budget. As part of the devolution settlement, there was supposed to be mitigation of the ‘bedroom tax’ at source. This is vital given that, with the calculation of housing costs now with the DWP and Universal Credit, use of Discretionary Housing Payments is a lot more problematic.

We must get better at sharing data between DWP and social landlords – surely, we all have the same aim which is to help people when they need help? The restoration of implicit consent would enable landlords to better support customers and prevent problems.

The facility for landlords to upload rent change data to the landlord portal: the majority of landlords change their rents at the beginning of April; last year, we were promised that landlords would be able to upload data so that tenants got the right amount following the rent change. This didn’t happen for technical reasons, but assuring noises were made that it would be available in April 2020, and it has been trialled successfully by some landlords who had their rent changes later on in the year. Last April, when the onus was on claimants notifying the DWP of rent changes, proved an administrative nightmare, with landlords swamped with verification requests from the DWP. This year, the number of tenants now on Universal Credit has swelled by upwards of 50%, so it will be even more chaotic without an upload facility. If both the DWP and social landlords are trying to be as efficient with public funds as possible, why is this not being enabled by the DWP?

Finally, the managed migration of claimants still on the old benefits is due to start later this year. Among these will be some of the most vulnerable people in our society who have been on long term ESA. As part of the package of support, Universal Credit Scottish Choices need to be fully integrated into the migration process, to safeguard the most vulnerable.

Would you like to submit a blog for Housing Scotland Today? Email feautures@sfha.co.uk

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