The Scottish government plans to utilise its new social security powers for the first time by increasing the flexibility of Universal Credit payments.
It was announced last week that claimants will have the option of receiving Universal Credit fortnightly instead of monthly. Tenants will also have the choice of having their housing benefits paid directly to their landlords.
These new options will be available to new applicants who live in the Universal Credit Full Service areas. These are local authority areas where a digital claiming system has been established by the UK government.
The changes will also affect existing claimants once they are migrated to a new system.
Social security minister, Jeane Freeman, revealed that this direct payment option will be offered to tenants in both social housing and the private letting sector.
In an article from the National Landlord’s Association (NLA), Freeman explained: “as part of the social security consultation exercise last summer, we heard directly from people that paying the housing element of Universal Credit direct to landlords and receiving more frequent payments would be two important improvements to the DWP approach. These are issues that people have repeatedly raised with us, highlighting the problems the current system can cause for budgeting.
“I am delighted therefore that I am able to address these concerns and go further, by extending the direct payment option to tenants with private landlords, and deliver these flexibilities for people in Scotland.
“People claiming Universal Credit want to have a choice about how the housing element part of the payment is paid – we have listened to that wish and are now taking action to make sure it happens as quickly as possible,” Freeman elaborated.
These measures are the first to follow the Scotland Act 2016, which was passed in March last year.
This gave the Scottish government more autonomy over its social security powers.
However, the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) still retains overall control over Universal Credit.
The measures have received cross-party support, and have been praised by housing organisations.
John Blackwood, Chief Executive of Scottish Association of Landlords, stated to the BBC: “We welcome the extension of choice of direct payments to landlords for tenants in the private sector of the housing element of Universal Credit.
“This should help protect tenancies and minimise rent arrears which will benefit both the tenant and the landlord.
“It is only fair that private sector tenants have the same option to choose direct payments as tenants in the social sector,” Blackwood elaborated.
Housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland described the proposals as “sensible” and “helpful”, according to Scottish Housing News.
However, there have been concerns that the Scottish government could take welfare provisions further.
Scottish Conservative MSP, Annie Wells, as quoted in an article by the BBC, said: “I welcome the fact the UK government has given the Scottish government these powers.
However, the Scottish government has now shown that they’ll only use a small portion of the powers devolved through the Scotland Act. I want to see them use more of the powers.”
Image: Hamish Irvine