RUGBY COUNCIL ACCUSED OF FAILING TO HELP PREVENT RISING POVERTY & HOMELESSNESS CAUSED BY UNIVERS
Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has raised many concerns about Universal Credit since its introduction in 2011. “Now we have found a way of alleviating some of the worst poverty it causes – but Rugby Borough Council is not prepared to act on it”, Rugby TUSC spokesperson Pete McLaren told us today. “We wrote to leading members of Rugby Borough Council in October outlining our concerns that benefit claimants in Rugby are not offered Nil Income Forms when suffering financial hardship.
“Councils can offer payments to claimants through these Nil Income Forms whether or not they are in receipt of benefits. This would particularly help with the hardship those claiming Universal Credit experience in that period of up to ten weeks before they receive any benefits, and for any claimants who are sanctioned. We explained that successful completion of a Nil Income Form can lead to claimants receiving income which can be used to prevent rent or council tax arrears, and it can give access to food vouchers, emergency cash payments and Utility Meter Credit. This can prevent further debt, evictions and homelessness. We gave examples of two relatively nearby local authorities which do offer Nil Income Forms – Corby and Leicester. There are a number of others.
“We received no answers from elected members. However, we did get a reply from David Wortley, Community Advice and Support Manager at Rugby Borough Council. He maintained that additional support can only be given to claimants once they are in receipt of Housing Benefit. This, of course, does nothing to help those applying for Universal Credit as they do not qualify for Housing Benefit once they are forced onto it. This is why so many tenants are falling into rent arrears, with increasing numbers being evicted. In addition, when Universal Credit has been awarded, there is still no Housing Benefit as rent is included as a Housing Element in the amounts claimants receive – it no longer goes directly to the landlord in the form of Housing Benefit.
“Rugby TUSC responded and said that our concerns had not been addressed in his reply. No financial help was available to those in hardship because of the delays between claiming Universal Credit and actually receiving any money. We asked again for the Council to offer Nil Income Forms for Universal Credit claimants during those six to ten weeks they have to wait for any income, including rent.
“Mr Wortley replied to confirm ‘Rugby Council does not provide any financial assistance whilst claimants are awaiting a payment of Universal Credit’, and that discretionary awards will only be considered where Housing Benefit or the Housing Element of Universal Credit is being paid.
“We accept the original fault lies with the Tory Government that introduced Universal Credit to Rugby and five other pilot areas in 2011, a pilot now being rolled out nationwide. It is part of a scheme to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget, so it suits the Tories for claimants to go into rent arrears and experience extreme poverty with absolutely no income at all whilst awaiting Universal Credit or if sanctioned. That’s how much of the £12 billion is being saved.
“The situation has clearly worsened with the introduction of Universal Credit. It was difficult enough for claimants in receipt of Job Seekers allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (EASA), although they could at least apply for a hardship payment at their local Job Centre safe in the knowledge that any award would not have to be repaid. Under Universal Credit, however, any hardship payment is then recovered from future benefit payments, thus simply postponing the poverty. Once again, such hardship payments are only made when the benefit is actually being paid, and at a reduced rate, but not whilst applying for it.
It is well documented that homelessness and poverty are increasing in Rugby, and the town has become the 5th highest in the West Midlands for rough sleeping. In the nine months up to September last year, there was a 25% increase in use of the local food bank. Rugby people have expressed real concern at this suffering. It is no coincidence that, being a pilot area, Rugby has a high number of benefit claimants on Universal Credit. That is why we have called on Rugby Borough Council to help at those critical periods when claimants are applying for Universal Credit or receive a sanction once on it. The Council could do so much more to prevent the inevitable poverty caused by receiving no income for up to ten weeks, hence our continuing plea for them to administer Nil Income Forms immediately and ensure tenants are aware of such support”, Pete McLaren concluded.
 A sanction is a penalty the DWP can impose on a benefit claimant for supposed misdemeanors like missing an appointment, whatever the reason. It results in benefits being stopped or reduced for a period.
 Other authorities which issue Nil Income Forms include Brighton, Torridge, Bolton, Leeds. Norwich and Rushcliffe
 Cllr Emma Crane, Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homes, did reply to say she would come back to us after seeking clarification from officers, but has not done so