With the ongoing shortage of housing in the UK, rising rents and the current crisis, recipients of government rental assistance are finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to find affordable accommodation.
Most landlords flatly refuse to accept Universal Credit or Housing Benefit recipients and publicise this in their marketing material. The result is a huge demand for basic accommodation from government dependant applications.
When the government introduced the Universal Credit scheme, it wanted to empower recipients to handle their own financial affairs. This meant that it paid rental assistance to the recipient and they would pay it to the landlord. They could allow the direct payment to the landlord but could stop it at any time and receive the payment themselves.
Some recipients, whether due to the COVID crisis or not, are now not paying their rent and some are using the money for other needs. With the government’s moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent unless the tenant is at least six months in arrears, there is little a landlord can do other than wait out the period and then go through the eviction process.
Most landlords have decided not to take the risk and the result is that many honourable Universal Credit/Housing Benefit recipients are being frozen out of the market.
Recipients/tenants may argue, quite correctly in many cases, that their allowance isn’t enough to support themselves and pay their rent. With the funds they have available, buying food and other necessities is more important than honouring a rental agreement.
Landlords may argue that this is not their responsibility to provide free housing – they have their own financial worries in these troubled times and need their rental income. If the benefit is being paid as rental assistance, then it should be used for that only, and direct payment to the landlord is the only way this is enforceable. If any other assistance is being received, then it may be paid directly to the recipient.
Self-empowerment is an admirable aim, but the system was never going to work in the real world. Government assistance is meagre and even in the good times of pre-COVID, the system worked poorly with some tenants deciding to spend their rental assistance on other needs. During the current crisis, the system has utterly failed both recipients and landlords.
Rightly or wrongly, direct payment to the landlord would encourage more of them to rent to benefit recipients. The current system actively discourages them to do so and is creating an even greater housing shortage and long-term problems for society.
The current plight of the homeless and those in need of urgent housing assistance is a blight on our society. Unfortunately, both sides of the political divide have no real solution, despite promises at every election that they have.
The reality is that, whether you agree with direct payments or not, the current system is not working for the long-term benefit of the people it is designed to help. Direct payments is a good first step, but until the whole system of rental assistance is changed and the housing shortage is addressed, the problem will only grow.