Sheffield Council vows not to take action against tenants who struggle with rent due to Universal Credit changes
Sheffield Council will not seek to evict tenants who rack up rent arrears due to the Universal Credit benefit changes.
Council leader Julie Dore told a meeting of Sheffield City Centre Residents' Action Group that the authority was expecting an increase in rent arrears as a result of the changes.
The controversial new payment replaces Housing Benefit for people of working age and started to be rolled out in the city last month.
Coun Dore said: 'We will not take any eviction procedures or court orders if the rent arrears are purely down to Universal Credit.'
It comes after senior council officers warned the new benefit could double or even treble the cost of collection and increase rent arrears to Â£15 million by the end of 2021.
David Phillips, head of strategic finance, said: 'The risk to income collection will continue to become increasingly difficult as Universal Credit continues to be rolled out.
'A programme of welfare reforms, introduced in 2013, led to cuts in a range of benefits including Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support posing a risk to residents' ability to pay their rent and council tax and therefore increases in arrears.
'Universal Credit poses a significant financial risk to the council as support towards housing costs, which is currently paid through Housing Benefit direct to the housing revenue account, will in most cases now be paid directly to individuals.
'It is estimated that this could double or even treble the cost of collection and increase rent arrears to Â£15m by the end of 2020/21.
However, impacts are uncertain at present as there is limited data available.
Mr Phillips added: 'The council will continue to take robust action to recover arrears from those who simply will not pay. It is, however, committed to not evicting a tenant as a result of arrears due to delays in Universal Credit payments.'
In a statement, theÂ Department of Work and Pensions said: 'Rent arrears are complicated and can't be attributed to a single cause. Research shows that many people join Universal Credit with pre-existing arrears, but that number falls by a third after just four months.
'We can pay housing payments direct to landlords if necessary, and we're working closely with social landlords to help them support vulnerable people.'