Call for special system to ease benefits misery

Liverpool Echo - 30 Oct 2017

MERSEYSIDE politicians have called for the region to get new powers to protect families from the worst "misery" of the universal credit benefit system.

The proposed new system could mean struggling families in our region can receive their benefit payments every two weeks - rather than once a month.

It could also mean people would have their housing benefit paid directly to their landlord, to prevent the build-up of rent arrears.

Devolved authorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland have already negotiated a similar arrangement and now Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Birkenhead MP Frank Field have called on the Government to do the same for families in the Liverpool City Region.

They have written to under-pressure Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke, as evidence mounts of food banks and rent accounts taking the strain of universal credit in its current form.

At Halton Housing Trust, for example, over £400,000 of arrears have accumulated as a direct result of the roll-out of the full universal credit service.

This means that just 18% of their tenants owe 55% of all their arrears.

Prior to claiming universal credit, average arrears were £270.

Post-universal credit, the average arrears are now £448 - representing an average increase of 60%.

Over the last 12 months, the number of referrals the trust has made to local food banks has more than doubled.

Mr Rotheram said: "It is simply wrong for the Government to be going ahead with the roll-out of universal credit when the pilots have resulted in chaos, hardship and misery.

"It's a move that appears designed to worsen the already scandalous problem of homelessness in our society.

"It is not even excusable to describe these as teething problems, as there are profound design faults and injustices at the very core of the new system."

Mr Field added: "If the Government were to extend these new powers to Merseyside, it would relieve a huge amount of financial and human suffering among families in our region."

Liam Thorp, Liverpool Echo