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Wednesday, 09 May 2018

MP warns domestic abuse victims face huge rent arrears on Universal Credit

Written by Jon Vale

Victims of domestic violence who claim Universal Credit can find themselves in thousands of pounds of rent arrears if their abuser leaves their home and the payment is split, an MP has said.

Labour MP Ruth George said a lot of social housing providers were concerned about the provision in Universal Credit when the benefit payment is divided.

Ms George, a member of the Work and Pensions select committee, urged housing minister Heather Wheeler to address the concerns with her counterparts in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ms George spoke as MPs approved the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill.

She said: "Whilst the Secure Tenancies Bill is very much welcomed, a lot of social housing providers are very concerned that Universal Credit, where there's a joint tenancy currently, where a perpetrator of domestic violence leaves, then that payment is split between both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic abuse, meaning that the victim only receives half of the housing element of Universal Credit, and therefore immediately falls into arrears.

"On the APPG (all-party parliamentary group) for Universal Credit we took evidence that some victims of domestic violence were already being evicted because they had built up arrears into thousands of pounds, because of that very system.

"So whilst I very much welcome this Bill and also the Government's wider intentions, I very much hope that the minister will be using her experience that she's gathered over the course of this Bill to talk to other departments and look at the overall experience of victims of domestic violence and the support they get from Government."

Ms George also highlighted the single payment system, where the benefit is paid into one bank account per household.

MPs and campaigners have argued that this can leave women vulnerable to financial abuse by their partner, given their control over the family's money.

"Women cannot, will not even be able to access the money for a bus fare or a train fare or a taxi fare in order that they can leave their abuser," Ms George said.

"Even, as I mentioned in an intervention earlier, when victims do manage to leave, then they need a benefits system that will respond immediately to their needs and guarantee them benefit and support, which otherwise some victims are not even able to access a place in a refuge without that support, and end up going back to the perpetrator of their abuse.

"One cannot imagine the additional abuse they will receive, having attempted to leave but having to go back again.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: "Abuse in any form is completely unacceptable, and Jobcentre Plus staff do everything they can to make sure people fleeing domestic abuse get the help they need as quickly as possible.

"That includes fast-tracking advances so that people are not left without money and transferring a person's claim to a different Jobcentre.

"There's no evidence that paying into one account increases the risk of domestic violence. Previous legacy benefits such as housing and child benefits were also paid to one account."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Niall Carson / PA Wire.