A DWP minister just made the dodgiest of claims about Universal Credit

Alok Sharma the DWP logo and the Universal Credit logo
Steve Topple

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister responded to a parliamentary question in the last few hours of the working week on Friday 13 July. But in doing so, he made a few claims which were, at best, skating on rather thin ice when it came to the truth.

DWP: what about rent arrears?

DWP minister of state Alok Sharma was answering a written question from Angela Crawley MP. She had asked:

what financial support the Government is providing to local authorities with increased rent arrears as a result of the introduction of universal credit.

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In the now-controversial National Audit Office (NAO) analysis of Universal Credit, it said [pdf, p46] that:

The Department has not undertaken any national, representative analysis… but has produced a very limited analysis with one housing association. It found there is an increase in average rent arrears as claimants move on to Universal Credit… This increase starts to accelerate before they make their… claim… Arrears rise starkly as claimants wait a month for their first payment. On average this starts to plateau 10 to 12 weeks following a claim, after which individuals start to repay their arrears.

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Sharma seemed to have other research to hand, though. Because in reply to Crawley’s question, he said:

Research shows that many people come onto Universal Credit with pre-existing rent arrears. We also know that arrears are usually temporary and the majority of claimants do succeed in paying their rent, managing their monthly payments and clearing their arrears over time.

But the DWP minister’s claims barely match up to the reality published in his department’s own research; never mind the NAO analysis.

Skating on thin ice

As The Canary previously reported, the DWP released the results of a claimant survey into Universal Credit on 8 June. It was done in two waves: one survey at the start of people’s claim, and another nine to 10 months in.

Regarding rent arrears, it found that of people surveyed:

  • 22% had [pdf, p75] Alternative Payment Arrangements in place, meaning the DWP paid their landlord directly. The DWP says [pdf, p75] this is “for claimants who struggle to manage housing payments”.
  • Over a third of claimants in both waves were in housing payment arrears [pdf, p72].
  • Of the claimants surveyed who took part in both waves, 44% said their arrears had “become larger” between waves [pdf, p74].

But crucially, 65% of claimants in arrears said this had started after their claim began [pdf, p73]. It is unclear, therefore, what Sharma meant when he said:

many people come onto Universal Credit with pre-existing rent arrears.

Either way, after Esther McVey was hauled over the coals for misrepresenting the NAO report, you could wonder why Sharma appears to be taking a leaf out of her book.

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– Sign the petition to sack McVey and support DPAC, fighting for disabled people’s rights.

Featured image via Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Flickr, UK government – Wikimedia and UK government – Wikimedia

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