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Universal Credit to be debated in Westminster

Monday 08 January 2018

The hotbed that is Universal Credit is still very much on the radar of politicians and shows no signs of abating with a high profile debate scheduled for tomorrow.

The debate, which will be led by Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd on 9 January, titled 'The effect of Universal Credit on the private rented sector' will see MPs from all sides look at the current challenges and ways of overcoming them.

Despite changes announced as part of the Autumn Budget, the landscape is still not conducive to a harmonious PRS/UC fit and tenants are still widely discriminated against by landlords who are reluctant to let to them because of genuine concerns over rent payments and other widely reported problems around inefficiencies and processes.

As the widespread roll-out of Universal Credit continues so do the problems which impact upon tenants and the private rented sector, bourne out by our survey in 2017 which showed that 34% of ARLA Propertymark agents reported that they had seen a reduction in the number of landlords prepared to rent to UC claimants. 

Whilst the debate at Westminster Hall is sure to be incendiary and attract a lot of attention from stakeholders across the industry, the thinktank approach could offer up some new solutions and continue the forward momentum in the shadow of the Autumn Budget. 

A great overview of what to expect from the debate is given on the Parliament website, which explains why Universal Credit (and Local Housing Allowances) cause such a big headache for the sector and what can be done to make things better for everyone. Also be sure to keep your eye out on our website and in the ARLA Propertymark newsletters for a follow up article about the key outcomes of the debate. 

ARLA Propertymark members will know that Universal Credit is an issue we've campaigned on for some time, and although some of the issues we have raised have been addressed by changes announced at the Autumn Budget, more still needs to be done. Universal Credit as it stands doesn't make the perfect bedfellow to the Private Rented sector, ultimately we'd like to see many more landlords accepting tenants who are UC claimants. The market needs it. We will be closely following the debate and hope that some of our key remaining points will be discussed on the day. 

Here's a recap on our main arguments that still remain even after the reforms announced at the budget:

  • Better access to information around tenants’ claims and better support when applying for direct payments is needed for private sector landlords – the PRS is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to access to information to prevent arrears from escalating.
  • Reduce the period that claimants have to wait before they can begin to receive Universal Credit further still. Even after being reduced to five weeks in the Autumn Budget, it is still too long for claimants/landlords to have to wait. 
  • Exempt reference checks from the proposed ban on letting agent’s fees to ensure tenants take on manageable levels of financial commitment and are not subsequently made homeless.