Housing associations in Scotland have been urged to require less rent upfront to combat growing arrears under Universal Credit and the benefit cap.
A joint report by Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said growing numbers of tenants are struggling to pay their first month of rent upfront and housing associations should be flexible by requiring one week’s rent instead, or the Scottish Government should provide loans.
The study, First Month’s Rent Flexibilities, said a poll of 27 housing associations had shown that “the majority” of those asking for rent in advance asked for between a week and a month’s worth.
Several responses highlighted “the detrimental effects that delayed Universal Credit payments were having on tenants and landlords”, according to the report.
Sarah Boyack, head of public affairs at the SFHA, said: “This report highlights the detrimental effects that delayed Universal Credit payments are having on social landlords and their tenants.”
Ms Boyack said tenants were often in debt before their tenancy began, putting them and their landlords in a vulnerable position.
Adam Lang, head of policy at Shelter Scotland, added: “It’s vital that homeless households, people on low incomes and people who can’t access other forms of housing can find a home they can afford. Social housing provides that safety net. But one month’s rent in advance for some households is simply not affordable.
“People starting their tenancy in arrears from which they may not recover is not in anyone’s interest, so flexible arrangements such as one week’s rent in advance or introducing repayable loans from the Scottish Government could make the difference between affording a home or not for many households.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We agree with concerns about the impact of welfare reform and the chaotic introduction of Universal Credit, especially for those making new claims or entering into new tenancies.
“But it is disappointing the report made no recommendations directed at the UK Government – the architect of the systems causing these issues. The UK Government have created this situation and it is their job to fix it.
“We hope SFHA and Shelter will join our call for a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit to prevent further hardship. In the meantime, the report highlights several approaches that can continue to be taken by landlords. We encourage all landlords to consider their services in light of the difficulties their tenants may be facing.”