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2020 ARCH/NFA Welfare Reform Survey results published 16/07/2020 Labelled as Finance, Legislation, Tenants

The fifth annual Welfare Reform survey from ARCH and the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) shows that households on Universal Credit are still significantly more likely to have housing debt than those on Housing Benefit although the situation is stabilising.


Since the NFA-ARCH annual UC survey was first published in 2016, it has become a trusted source of information about the impact of welfare reform. Its evidence has played a critical role in a number of recent changes to Universal Credit policy, including the removal of the seven-day waiting period, the run-on of Housing Benefit, and the development of the Landlord Portal which makes direct contact with the Department of Works & Pensions (DWP) possible.


This year we received responses to our latest survey from 43 councils and ALMOs managing over half a million homes, and we are grateful to those member councils who were able to respond to this year's survey and contribute to the report's findings.


This latest survey report"Setting a benchmark",finds that the picture on 31 March 2020 suggested that the impact of welfare reform was beginning to stabilize with the trend showing that Universal Credit arrears were reaching a plateau with around two-third of Universal Credit claimants in arrears. However, over the last 3 years between March 2017 and March 2020, housing debt owed to local authorities and ALMOs rose by 20%. 


We are in unprecedented times and our latest survey was conducted just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country with our member councils, ALMOs and tenants still bracing themselves for the full impact of the lockdown and subsequent economic shock to many peoples' incomes and the country's economy. The survey shows that landlords experienced a huge spike in Universal Credit verifications in the immediate weeks following the introduction of lockdown measures. On average, weekly applications rose by two and a half times, but this hides a considerable local variation with some areas seeing a seven-fold increase in Universal Credit claims in the first few weeks of lockdown.


We therefore intend to follow up this survey with a further short survey later in the year to seek to assess the effects of the pandemic and lockdown as it is too early at the moment to assess the full impact. Some of our member councils reported moving all or some of their rent free weeks to the beginning of lockdown to assist people, the '53 week year' is likely to have negatively impacted rent arrears in March/April, and some member councils had received, or were waiting for, substantial bulk payments from the DWP. The Government's furlough scheme has also been operational in this period and is likely to be cushioning the impact, especially in those areas where there are high levels of employment in sectors which have been disproportionately hit by Covid-19. These factors will take time to work through.


We are also planning to hold a video conference for those councils and ALMOs that participated in this year's survey to give an opportunity to discuss the findings and share experiences with colleagues in other local authorities. We will be finalising details with our colleagues at the NFA in the next few weeks and will be in touch with those councils who responded to the survey.


The ARCH Board will be discussing the survey report at the next ARCH Board meeting in September and we will be submitting it to Ministers and senior officials at the DWP and hope to meet with them, as we have in previous years, to discuss the report's findings.


Read the latest ARCH/NFA welfare reform survey report

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