Fresh concerns have been raised about the impact of the government’s flagship Universal Credit on some of the poorest sections in society.
Universal Credit is replacing a number of existing social security benefits, including Housing Benefit, with a single monthly payment for each affected household.
Most people will be required to apply for the new benefit online, but a new survey by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the National Housing Federation (NHF) questions whether those people will have the means or even the capacity to do so.
According to the survey four in ten (40%) affected households do not have access to the internet at all, and of the 51% who said they did have internet access 30% said they would not feel confident in making an application for Universal Credit online.
Under Universal Credit Housing Benefit will be paid directly to the claimant rather than the landlord on a monthly basis. This has led to concerns that some tenants may struggle to keep up with their rent payments because they may use that money for other purposes, such as food and heating.
These fears are backed up by 70% of respondents to the survey who said that they currently budgeted on a weekly basis. 68% of these said they did not feel confident about handling their finances on a monthly basis. Only 14% already budgeted monthly.
92% of those surveyed by Ipsos Mori said they would prefer their Housing Benefit to be paid directly to their landlord instead of themselves.
The survey also revealed that only 16% of those who had been affected by controversial changes to Housing Benefit, also known as the ‘bedroom tax’, knew ‘a great deal or a fair amount’ about Universal Credit.
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr said:
“We support the aims of Universal Credit to simplify the system and make work pay. We are concerned that the transition to the new system will put many tenants at risk.
“An overwhelming majority of tenants want to have the choice to have their housing costs paid to their landlord and a large proportion are faced with the additional challenge of not having access to the internet. For people living with financial stress every day, this rational choice secures your home and reduces the stress.
“With two thirds likely to struggle with monthly budgeting, there is a risk that without the right support, many could end up unable to pay for essentials and fall behind on their rent.
“If you are living on a low income, there is a huge difference between budgeting weekly and monthly. The consequences of running out of money for several days at the end of a month are much more severe than running short for a day at the end of the week.”
Ipsos Mori surveyed 750 people in receipt of Housing Benefit between Friday 21 February and Friday 7 March 2014. A full report is expected later this month (May 2014).