London

Universal Credit leaves thousands of Londoners in rent arrears

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Image caption As of January 73% of the 13,650 council tenants claiming Universal Credit in London are in rent arrears

More than 70% of council tenants in London on Universal Credit are in rent arrears, the BBC has found.

Universal Credit, the government's flagship new benefit scheme, has been rolled out in eight London boroughs.

As of January nearly 10,000 council tenants claiming Universal Credit owed money for rent.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: "The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their money."

Universal Credit merges six existing benefits into one and is being introduced gradually across the UK.

New claimants and those who have had a change of circumstance are automatically placed on Universal Credit.

It takes at least six weeks for a household to receive their first payment after applying and some claimants have had to wait up to 12 weeks to begin receiving regular payments.

Freedom of Information requests by the BBC revealed 13,650 council tenants in London are claiming Universal Credit in London.

Requests were sent to first six London boroughs to get full a Universal Credit service: Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow, Southwark, Sutton and Tower Hamlets.

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Media captionCouncil tenant worries for the future

"It's a real nightmare," Southwark Council resident Shirley Ifield, 50, told the BBC.

"It's 12 weeks without paying rent, without a TV licence. All I could borrow money for was food and gas."

Despite successfully transferring to Universal Credit, Ms Ifield says the process has left her in debt.

She said: "You don't get back pay. Everyone's knocking on your door asking for money."

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Image caption Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for working age households in or out of work, replacing six existing benefits

In Tower Hamlets 81% of council tenants on the benefit have fallen into rent arrears.

John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: "The introduction of Universal Credit is pushing Tower Hamlets families into poverty.

"This Government policy means people are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table, which is simply not acceptable."

The DWP spokesman said: "The best way to help people pay their rent and to improve their lives is to support them into work.

"Under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than the old system."

From April, people in receipt of Housing Benefit will receive two weeks' rent when they move onto Universal Credit.

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