Universal Credit Think Tank for the Community

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Universal Credit Think Tank for the Community

15-16 October 2018

Supported by Penny Smart

The Housing Plus Academy is holding a Think Tank on 15th-16th October for residents in social housing and support staff to help make Universal Credit more transparent and also help people cope with its consequences. There will be expert advisors on hand to help advise and answer questions. Penny Smart, a charity that helps low income households with financial problems, will support the event.

Universal Credit has become one of the most controversial reforms to our welfare system since housing benefit was introduced in 1981 to combat rent arrears and ensure tenants covered their rent, so landlords could maintain their property. As housing benefit costs rose, along with rents, and as social housing tenants became poorer, landlords received even bigger benefit checks from Government- providing a guaranteed rent income they came to depend on. But growing numbers of tenants lost all connection with rent payments, as the benefit went straight from government to social landlords, thus ensuring low income tenants couldn’t fall into rent arrears. Many tenants came to rely on it totally.

Universal Credit sets out to reverse that dependency- first, it combines, in a single monthly payment to households, all benefit entitlements including housing benefit. Second, it forces landlords to establish direct contact with their lowest income and most vulnerable tenants. Third, it forces recipients to manage their incomes like a monthly salary, even though many are paid fortnightly or unevenly in the “gig” economy or sometimes not paid at all on zero hours contract. Fourth, it makes little allowance for how close to the margin low income tenants are, managing by juggling bills and falling into debt.

Universal Credit is not paid for 5 weeks after claiming and there are many glitches, delays and cancellations. This creates multiple pressure on tenants and social landlords- it causes even bigger problems for private tenants where tenants have far less security. If rents are above a certain level, Universal Credit simply won’t cover them. Homelessness is rising partly because many private landlords exclude tenants on Universal Credit and increasingly social landlords are screening tenants on their ability to pay.

So how can tenants and landlords respond to the introduction of Universal Credit? What do tenants need to know? Who can help when payments go wrong or payment notices arrive for utilities, council tax, loan repayments or rent itself? What makes Universal Credit so unreliable? How can low income households survive such irregular income support?

The Housing Plus Academy is holding a Think Tank on 15th-16th October for residents in social housing and support staff to help make Universal Credit more transparent and also help people cope with its consequences. There will be expert advisors on hand to help advise and answer questions. Penny Smart, a charity that helps low income households with financial problems, will support the event.

The Tenant Think Tank will be followed by a Think Tank for social landlords and policy makers, councils and Housing Associations, senior and frontline practitioners who need to deal with Universal Credit as it rolls over. Many Councils and Housing Associations already have experience of Universal Credit pilots and early roll out. Curo Housing Association will share its experience and expertise to participants (with over half its tenants now on Universal Credit). We hope to have input from government officials. John Hills, expert in welfare systems, has offered to act as advisor to both Think Tanks.

The Think Tanks are held at Trafford Hall, just outside Chester, set in beautiful gardens with en-suite bedrooms, eco-friendly, carbon-neutral buildings and supportive staff. The cost of the Think Tank for residents is £170 including all accommodation, meals, resources etc. £140 is charged for additional participants from the same organisation, and for tenants from small Housing Associations (under 5000 homes). The residential allows faster, clearer learning away from other pressures. If you can only attend for one day the cost is £100 including all meals and all information.

The policy and practice Think Tank is on 6th-7th November. The charge is £250 per participant and £200 for second delegates from the same organisation. This only covers the direct cost of running the Think Tanks, and we aim to keep our costs to a bare minimum.

Chester is on direct train from London (2 hours), Liverpool and Manchester (1 hour) and the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North (1.5-2.5 hours). Trafford Hall is only a short 10 minute taxi from Chester Station. Booking information is attached.

The Housing Plus Academy reflects the diversity of social housing among our staff, tenants and customers because we believe that diversity gives us access to better ideas, innovation and solutions.  Recognising the benefits of diversity means that we would like to invite more people from a wide variety of backgrounds to join us.  So, for example, if you have a different thinking style, are from an ethnic minority background, are younger, or perhaps you have a disability, your experience will be invaluable in keeping us current and relevant, and will be welcome.

 

 

 

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