Lockdown rent arrears soar for council tenants
Thousands who have turned to Universal Credit are facing severe financial pressure
26 June, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson
Satnam Gill: ‘What’s clear is that as soon as somebody goes onto Universal Credit they get into rent arrears’
RENT arrears among council tenants are soaring during lockdown, with concerns growing over how they will clear their debts.
The waiting time between applying for Universal Credit and receiving funds is putting thousands under severe financial pressure and the number of new claimants in the borough has more than doubled since lockdown started.
Figures from the council show more than 65 per cent of people claiming Universal Credit are now in social housing rent arrears in Islington, with 3,459 owing an average amount of £1,356.
And with the council losing income as a result of the lockdown topping £50million, finance chief Satnam Gill said the Town Hall was “caught between a rock and a hard place” in trying to support residents through financial hardship, while trying to collect rent.
“What’s clear is that as soon as somebody goes onto Universal Credit they get into rent arrears,” he said.
“A five-week wait is five weeks of arrears – people will struggle to pay that back.”
Cllr Gill has twice written to work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, asking for the waiting time before Universal Credit payments are made to be reduced. He says he has received no reply.
Council director of housing Maxine Holdsworth said that before the lockdown 50 per cent of all council rent arrears were held by 10 per cent of residents on Universal Credit. These figures are likely to have spiralled in the past three months.
Asked if dwindling council resources could lead to mass evictions, Cllr Gill said: “What we try to do is to get to a situation where we can make different arrangements with tenants, so they can pay back over a longer period of time.”