At yesterday's Chalkill Community Centre meeting on Universal Credit there was a strong call for Brent Council to follow neighbouring Camden LINK in adopting a policy of not evicting any of its tenants who fall into rent arrears because of problems with the roll-out in Brent. There is a minimum five week wait for payment.There was an additional call for the Council to persuade housing associations in the borough to adopt the same policy. It was pointed out that it would be more costly to the Council in the medium-term if it had to provide temporary accommodation for families who had been made homeless.
There are currently 2,000 Brent residents on Universal Credit who are mainly job seekers and not claiming housings costs. However 45,000 are due to move over to universal Credit of whom about half will have housing benefit.
Brent Central MP, Dawn Butler, addressing the meeting, said the she feared a big rise in evictions from private rented accommodation and an increased demand for food banks. Butler asked the audience to send in stories of the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit on individuals and families to inform and reinforce the campaign on the issue. However, she did not favour the 'stop and scrap' demand saying that the Labour Party had been advised that this would cause even more harm to claimants. Instead there should be a 'pause and fix' approach.
There was particular concern that people, particularly those with disabilities or learning difficulties, or the poor without broadband and computers, would be 'digitally excluded.' 40% of people in Brent do mnot have access to their own wifi. Claiming Universal Credit does not only involve an initial on-line application, itself not an easy process, but regular access to the on-line account day to day or week to week, to correspond with the DWP regularly. If accessed through a library or cyber cafe there would be no claimant advice available. Butler said that she was seeking information from Brent Council on how it was using a government grant to help claimants with advice and access. Butler favoured direct payment of the housing portion of Universal Credit to landlords.
There is a 'claimant commitment' in order to access benefit for those without employment to be actively seeking work for the equivalent of 35 hours a week. Those working part-time are expected to top those hours up to 35 by seeking work. After one year of trading the self-employed will; be assumed to be earning the minimum wage for a 35 hour week.
Unite Community will be holding a follow up meeting to organise campaigning. Check out Wembley Matters for an update.