EVERY homeless tenant in the Highlands has been plunged into debt by the roll-out of a controversial new benefits system.
The situation, blamed on universal credit, means Highland Council is owed £704,347 in rent arrears from claimants of the new benefit – a massive 82 per cent increase from £317,000 last September.
More than half of this comes from claimants in Inverness, where £473,227 is owed. In total, the local authority is around £1.3 million out of pocket from unpaid rent.
Universal credit replaced job seeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit. It has been widely criticised for leaving people worse off than they were before.
Any new application or change of circumstances, including a new job, change of address or birth of a baby will result in a six-week benefit freeze, leaving people unable to pay rent.
Universal credit “full service” is being trialled in Inverness, where claimants have reported benefits freezes of four months, leaving them unable to pay rent or buy food.
Council leader Margaret Davidson confirmed all the people in homeless accommodation in Highland are in rent arrears. “It is already a major problem and it is going to get worse,” she said.
Inverness MP Drew Hendry has called for an immediate halt until the system can be managed more efficiently.
“These benefit cuts are lining the pockets of the UK Treasury while people living in temporary accommodation, along with working families, lone parents, those in receipt of disability benefits and job seekers are left without enough to make ends meet,” he said.
“The situation is now at crisis point and I have asked ministers to undertake an immediate consultation of the situation, with a pause on any further roll-out in the meantime.”
He urged anyone affected to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or the council’s welfare support team.
A spokesman for the UK Department for Work and Pensions said: “The majority of universal credit claimants are comfortable managing their budgets and, after four months, the proportion of claimants we surveyed who were in arrears at the start of their claim fell by a third.”