Steep rise in rent arrears in East Lothian blamed on Universal Credit

RENT arrears among council tenants rose by 20 per cent over the summer, with council officials linking one-third of the rise directly to the introduction of Universal Credit (UC).

East Lothian began a trial of the new digital UC system at the start of this financial year, which rolls a number of benefit payments into one, including housing benefit, giving it to the tenant, instead of directly to the council.

Council officials predicted it would be harder to collect rent under the new pilot system, which was described as an “experiment in cruelty” by SNP councillor Fraser McAllister.

At a meeting of the council’s policy and performance review committee, a report revealed that council rent arrears in the first three months of the year had been £1,210,872 but rose over the second quarter of the financial year to £1,452,515 – an increase of £241,643.

And commenting on the report, officials said: “The introduction of UC was predicted to have a significant impact on rent collection. Of the 590-plus council house tenants claiming UC, we now have an additional £75k rent to collect direct from these tenants per fortnight.

“Of this year’s increase, £79,140 relates directly to debt associated with UC.”

Following the meeting, Councillor Peter MacKenzie, who sits on the committee, said he was concerned to hear of tenants falling into debt and called for more rent officers to be brought in to help.

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