Almost two-thirds of private landlords with tenants receiving Universal Credit have experienced them going into rent arrears, the Residential Landlord Association’s research exchange, PEARL, has found.
Some 61% of landlords with tenants on Universal Credit have experienced them going into rent arrears, up from 27% in 2016. On average Universal Credit tenants in rent arrears owed almost £2,400, a 49% increase compared to last year.
David Smith, RLA policy director, said: “Our research shows clearly that further changes are urgently needed to Universal Credit.
“We welcome the constructive engagement we have had with the Government over these issues but more work is needed to give landlords the confidence they need to rent to those on Universal Credit.
“The impact of the announcements from the Autumn budget last year remain to be seen. However, we feel a major start would be to give tenants the right to choose to have payments paid directly to their landlord.
“This would empower tenants to decide what is best for them rather than being told by the government.”
Over half (53%) of landlords with tenants on Universal Credit applied for direct payment to be made to them instead of to the tenant, known as an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA).
Where successful it took, on average, over two months for this to be organised, on top of the two months arrears already accrued. This has caused arrears to build up substantially.
Those landlords that have to wait for two months arrears before they can apply for direct payment are reporting that on average the APA process takes 9.3 weeks.
This when added to the initial two months arrears accrued means that landlords are on average owed four months’ rent before they are successfully awarded direct payment.
The RLA is calling for the APA process to be improved as a matter of urgency, particularly before managed migration begins next year and more families and complex cases are moved onto Universal Credit.
One fifth of landlords also reported that their mortgage lender prevented them from renting homes to tenants in receipt of benefits.
The RLA is calling for tenants to be able to choose, where it is best for them, to have the housing element of Universal Credit paid directly to the landlord.
It is calling also for private landlords to be given more information about a tenant’s claim, such as when they receive payments, where this is in the best interest of the tenant to sustain the tenancy so that suitable rent payment schedules can be arranged.
At present, this is provided to social sector landlords, but not to those in the private sector.
Formal mechanisms should also be put in place to enable landlords to reclaim rent arrears where Universal Credit tenants leave a property owing rent.