During today’s Prime Ministers Questions, the following statement was made by the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, “Gloucester City Homes has evicted 1 in 8 of all of its tenants because of Universal Credit”
This statement is not factually accurate and the reference implies that we are evicting 1 in 8 of all GCH’s tenants. The evictions quoted by Mr Corbyn relates to 8 of the current 66 Universal Credit claimants at September 2017, compared to GCH’s overall eviction rate of 1 tenant for the remaining 4,442 tenanted homes.
GCH does not take the decision to evict its tenants lightly and in all of the 8 cases who were on UC, we followed a significant safeguarding process which consists of at least 11 stages and we have to abide with a pre-action protocol designed to avoid legal action and sustain tenants in their homes.
Prior to the introduction of UC, the average level of arrears for the 8 evicted UC claimants was £770 (an average of 2.5 months of rent arrears). At the point of eviction, this had risen to an average of £1,828 (an average of 5 months of rent arrears). The average level of arrears across all UC claims is £361 (an average of 1 month rent arrears)
85% of UC claimants in Gloucester were already in rent arrears before going on to the new UC system which represents 46 of 66 claimants to date. GCH has a strong track record of collecting rental income and supporting tenants to manage their arrears. At the end of March 2017, we collected 99.95% of all rental income (as a % of rent due) which is above top quartile performance of 98.07%.
Our support mechanisms include providing funding support for both Gloucester Law Centre and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to provide direct and speedy access to welfare benefits advice for our tenants. We also sign post tenants to the Gloucester Credit Union for short term loans and access to credit. During 2016-2017, Gloucester Law Centre secured over £700,000 of benefits for our tenants. During the same period, we made 343 direct referrals to the CAB for debt advice. We have also developed an in-house financial inclusion team working with every new tenant to ensure that they are able to afford their rent and manage their income on an on-going basis.
In September 2017, alongside 137 other housing providers, GCH provided an update to the Commons Select Committee; Universal Credit Inquiry with factual information based on our experience to date and this is likely to be where Mr Corbyn obtained his figures. In our preparations for Full Service Universal Credit roll out which goes live in Gloucester in February 2018, we have been monitoring the outcomes and learning from the full service pilots and working with our local DWP on the resulting changes to improve the administration of the UC process including the launch of a new DWP information portal and trusted partner status. Currently, we are not seeing a great take up of the advance payment options (an advance of their UC payment ahead of the 6 weeks payment gap before the DWP make the first payment of UC)
On the 4th October, the GCH Board agreed an updated Welfare Reform Strategy which set out our continued plans to support our tenants and maintain our rental income stream. These plans include the following:
- Continuing to develop our Customer Insight knowledge enabling us target communications, improve digital inclusion and facilitate channel shift.
- Continuing to implement our tenant communication plan, including the development of a pop up advice shop
- Increasing our resources, skills and capacity to support tenants through the UC process and providing robust and timely debt and money management support
- Developing an effective triage service that supports and appropriately directs UC claimants through the process and makes best use of available resources
- Ensuring we have the right balance of skills and responsibilities to support tenants and staff
- Continuing to review the effectiveness and value for money of our current debt and money advice partnerships
- Providing Full Service training for frontline staff and operational managers.
- Exploring the potential implications associated with a rent in advance policy.
- Continuing to assess and monitor the risks associated with Government proposals around housing benefit reduction for under 35’s for general needs and supported housing.
- Undertaking a comprehensive review of our bad debt provision as part of the refresh of our business plan in spring 2018.
- Continuing to develop our relationship with the DWP and Civica and ensure we work in partnership for the benefit of our tenants. (this may include co-locating staff at Job Centre +)
- Continuing to learn and innovate; developing networks and partnerships that improve our understanding and provide additional support for our tenants.