Published: 12:00, 15 February 2019
| Updated: 12:35, 15 February 2019
Bosses at a letting agency have hit out at universal credit after multiple tenants were left homeless.
David Andrews Letting Agency in Duncan Road, Gillingham, has roughly trebled the number of people evicted for late rent payments over the last year, which the company is blaming on the government's flagship benefit reform.
Around 85% of the 300 tenants with the firm are on benefits.
The company claims the launch of universal credit - which rolls all benefit payments into one - was catastrophic for rent payments.
Universal Credit is replacing child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) and working tax credit.
On its website, the government says universal credit is being introduced in stages across the UK but you do not need to do anything until you hear from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), unless you have a change in circumstances.
But it has led to confusion.
DWP figures show that 6,159 benefit claimants in Medway had been moved onto universal credit by the middle of last month.
Numbers for all those claiming any benefit in Medway were not available but as of January 31, there were 15,331 people claiming housing benefit. There were also 16,920 people claiming council tax reduction who may be on universal credit or claiming housing benefit.
Owner of David Andrews Letting Agency, Andrew Warner, said: “We’ve evicted 26 people in the last 12 months - we wouldn’t do more than eight or 10 in a year and it’s purely because of universal credit.
“Then we have to go round with the bailiffs to change the locks and we have to throw people out onto the street.
“It’s not nice, they’re just stranded there and the kids are crying.”
Manager Pat Crosby said she had built up a rapport with tenants: “Suddenly it has all fallen apart because I can’t advise them.
“I’ve been in this job for 20 years, a lot of my tenants are lovely tenants, but they are at the lower end of the market and they rely on us to guide them through it.
“We’re really close knit.
“I have no idea what to advise them, what I thought was correct is not any more.”
The team at David Andrews is facing a number of struggles due to universal credit.
Mrs Crosby added: “It keeps changing, it’s different from person to person.”
“First people don’t realise they have to apply for the universal credit instead of housing benefit.
Payments are not backdated when people switch from one system to the other, she said.
“One of our tenants applied in November, they paid him in December and now he’s in arrears because he hasn’t got the money to pay for this month’s rent.
“A lot of our benefit tenants chose to send their housing benefit directly to us, they know that will help them get a roof over their head.
“But with universal credit they can’t do that.”
Universal credit was going straight into beneficiaries’ bank accounts and they had to budget themselves.
Mr Warner said that meant cash first went on any overdraft, phone bills or council tax, leaving little left over for rent.
Mr Warner added: “It’s not fair on the tenant. They’re saying, please pay David Andrews direct, don’t give me that rent money because the bank will swallow it. They don’t want the money.
“We’re not blaming the tenants we’re blaming universal credit.”
As a result, the company is losing money and tenants, with some landlords now selling up as they are fed up with people not paying.
Mr Warner said: “It is contributing to the homelessness problem, the waiting list for homes is so long. Then the taxpayer is having to fork out for all these families in bed and breakfasts when they would have been able to pay their rent if it wasn’t for universal credit.
“You’re fighting the government and you know who’s going to win and it won’t be us will it?”
A DWP statement said universal credit is a priority, with improvements already made.
The statement added that advance payments of up to 100% were available from day one, rent could now be paid directly to landlords and people were given two weeks’ extra housing support at the start of their claim.Budget advice was available from Jobcentre staff.