CHC has joined forces with the federations the National Housing Federation, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Northern Irish Federation to ask for a major overhaul to the Universal Credit system.
A survey conducted with 3,475 people living in Welsh housing association homes shows each person is in an average of £420 worth of arrears.
The Government’s flagship benefit scheme is pushing families into debt; causing suffering and hardship for tenants and threatening housing associations’ financial stability.
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Colin Porter, 54, is a Rhondda Housing Association tenant and believes big changes need to happen soon.
Colin lives alone in a one-bedroom flat in Ystrad in the Rhondda Valleys and has been receiving the equivalent of £65 a week Universal Credit, which is paid monthly. That means by the time he has paid all his household bills, he is left with about £20 a week for food.
He has a lump sum paid into his account once a month but says it’s very difficult to budget for things, particularly at the end of the month when there is little left. He would prefer to get two payments, one each fortnight and feels this would give him greater control over his finances.
He also believes there should be far more empathy for those receiving Universal Credit and that each and every person should be assessed according to their own personal circumstances. He feels it’s very impersonal and difficult to get answers.
Colin said: “I have been looking for work for months but I can’t find anything. I don’t drive and although there are good transport links around, public transport doesn’t start until 6am so that can be very limiting.
“I go to the Job Centre twice a month and have to prove what I’ve been doing in looking for work. They want you to spend 35 hours actively searching so I write down everything I’ve done on a spreadsheet and just hand it to them.
“I’ve managed to get a couple of jobs via agencies but they’ve been zero contracts at the minimum wage and that can cause havoc then with future payments. The benefits totally stop until it’s all been recalculated and it’s impossible to know how much and when it’s going to be paid in to the account. And that’s very worrying when there are bills to pay.”
Colin dislikes the uncertainty of the system.
“I think it’s the way it had been implemented that isn’t working. We shouldn’t lose out on money due to a reassessment and it’s so difficult to get answers when you call. I think they need to listen and evaluate each separate case. There is no real contact with the customer and you have no idea if and when it will be paid into your account.”
Colin says finding a job is increasingly difficult, particularly at his age. He’s sent off more than 300 emails about possible jobs and has only had a handful of replies.
“I’ve got a good education and lots of experience but it’s very difficult. There is a stigmatism around being on-the-dole but it’s not for the want of trying. I’m not eating as well as I should be and I snack on biscuits as the money dries up because you can buy a big packet for only 40p. It’s not so bad now with the warm temperatures but I was determined not to put the heating on during the winter and managed not to by wearing some salopettes all through the cold weather.
“I’m afraid I’ve become very cynical very quickly about Universal Credit. It needs to be delivered much better, communication needs to be better and I think payments should be every two weeks as it makes budgeting much easier.”