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'Universally discredited': Diane Abbott slams benefit system as new figures show huge rise in rent arrears

PUBLISHED: 15:31 11 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:07 11 October 2019

Diane Abbott, who says Universal Credit is in fact 'universally discredited'. Picture: Stefan Rousseau

Diane Abbott, who says Universal Credit is in fact 'universally discredited'. Picture: Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

Diane Abbott says Universal Credit is creating poverty after new figures revealed 7 in 10 of Hackney's council housing tenants claiming the benefit are now in rent arrears.

A file image of a job centre. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA ArchiveA file image of a job centre. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Archive

As of the end of last week, 1,338 of 1,901 tenants on the government's single-payment benefit system - 70 per cent - had not been able to pay their rent on time, with more than £1.5million owed.

Ms Abbott, the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP, told the Gazette the system had delivered none of the benefits the government predicted and called it "universally discredited".

The number of tenants in arrears is higher than it has been for two years and is rising as more people make the switch from housing benefit.

Universal Credit, rolled out in Hackney a year ago, has been condemned for leaving people without food and facing eviction due to delayed payments and problems submitting claims.

Last week Jeremy Corbyn announced a Labour government would scrap it altogether, calling it an "unmitigated disaster" designed to "punish and police" claimants.

Ms Abbott said: "Universal Credit is now a universally discredited policy.

"It has provided none of the benefits the Tories claimed, and the numbers of people in arrears in Hackney shows how it is causing real hardship.

"The Tories need to come clean and admit their policy creates poverty.

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"Labour in government will have a complete overhaul of Universal Credit, so that it supports people rather than causing misery."

Hackney Council has stated it won't evict anyone who is in arrears due to late payments of the benefit, and is operating in a "firm but fair" way.

Housing chief Cllr Rebecca Rennison said: "Having warned Universal Credit would prove disastrous without measures to prevent financial hardship, it's no surprise that - a year into its roll-out in Hackney and despite our intensive efforts to support people through the transition - our tenants who have moved to Universal Credit are much more likely to be in arrears than those still receiving housing benefit."

At the start of July, rent arrears among council tenants had increased by £320,000 in three months, with 1,265 Universal Credit claimants owing £1,458,752.

"This of course has a huge impact on our council homes," added Cllr Rennison. "Every penny not collected in rent can't then be used to keep our residents' homes up to scratch, put in place the new fire safety measures needed post-Grenfell, or invest in a new generation of social housing.

"What is needed is a welfare system that helps lift people out of poverty, not drives them further into it."

The council is looking to bring in any day direct debits to help people receiving late payments. As it stands payments can only be made on Mondays.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said the rise in arrears began before the rollout of Universal Credit, and many people moved onto it already owing rent.

They added: "We've introduced an extra two weeks' housing benefit for people moving onto Universal Credit, to help with the transition to monthly payments.

"Alternative payment arrangements allow for payments to be made directly to the landlord if the tenant is likely to have difficulty in managing their rent payments."

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