Universal Credit, China's moon ambitions and in-car internet speeds
February 4, 2013
By the time the final household switches over to Universal Credit in 2017, China’s plans to build a manned base on the moon are expected to be under way, internet-enabled cars will be the norm and David Beckham will be Prime Minister (OK, ignore the last one, but I bet he’ll still be playing top-flight football).
Future-gazing can be a tricky area and with daily reports suggesting the Government’s flagship pillar of welfare reform – Universal Credit – will be delayed or even scrapped by a new Government in 2015, you would be forgiven for not making any wild predictions around the reform.
However, delays and u-turns aside, October marks the stated introduction of the Government’s ambitious Universal Credit reform – six months after the start of a pathfinder across Greater Manchester and Cheshire.
But while the housing sector generally applauds attempts to make the system simpler - the commitment to pay the housing benefit element directly to social tenants as part of the monthly payment has been met with fierce opposition. Evidence suggests that social tenants don't want it paid directly to them and landlords have been at pains to stress that it could lead to their tenants falling into arrears, leading to eviction.
Despite this, the Government remains committed to direct payments (although there have been a few concessions along the way) in its bid to overhaul the benefits system, ensure work always pays and individuals have responsibility over their own lives.
So putting aside any delays and, more importantly, a possible change of Government in 2015, what will be the impact of Universal Credit on the budgeting patterns of those who currently feel in control when they are managing small amounts of cash on a weekly basis?
Evidence emerging from the demonstration projects suggests that landlords will need to provide a range of payment options, advice and support to aid tenants making the transition to direct payments.
Despite the resistance to change, it could be argued that the amount of support and advice landlords are providing to tenants now and over the course of the next four years as a result of direct payments can only be a good thing in the long run – providing low income households with budgeting skills, banking advice and ultimately greater control over their lives.
According to the National Housing Federation’s baseline survey of the impact of welfare reform on housing associations, over three quarters (76%) of landlords said they were providing extra money advice ahead of welfare reform changes.
With so many residents in social housing financially and digitally excluded, Universal Credit has provided the catalyst for landlords, support groups, charities and individuals to tackle these issues head on. There have been programmes to get tenants online, support the unbanked in getting bank or credit union accounts that suit their needs; and targeted advice at those considered most vulnerable. Not that landlords weren't already doing this, but it has given fresh impetus to kick start programmes, try new partnerships and better understand the circumstances of customers.
This year we will once again be exhibiting at the National Housing Federation’s Housing Finance conference in Warwick where we will be presenting the findings of a survey that seeks to present the sector’s opinions of Universal Credit, how it will impact on the way tenants pay their rent in the future and what processes landlords believe they will have in place by 2017 as a direct result of the reform.
To help us achieve this, we would be grateful if you’d take our 3-minute survey, the results of which, will be published at the exhibition on stand 92.
You can even make your bold 2017 predictions – e.g. what you think Apple’s latest innovation will be and whether you think Andy Murray will have won a Wimbledon!