The number of private tenants claiming Universal Credit more than doubled in the past year to over 1.5 million but fears are growing that many of them will be told to repay thousands of pounds each.
When the first lockdown happened in March last year the Government suspended doing full checks on claims because it could not see claimants face to face.
At that time there were 749,000 claimants who were private renters. By February this year that number had soared to 1,549,000, an increase of 800,000 or more than 100 per cent.
The Department for Work and Pensions is now revisiting many of the claims it approved without undertaking standard verification processes at the time. It is feared that many thousands of claimants will not have access to copies of the documents required by the DWP, such as rent books, invoices or tenancy agreements.
Already there are reports of some tenants being asked to repay sums of more than £5,000 each. Money they do not have and also have no chance of getting in the months ahead. They now face the prospect of having benefit payments reduced (while the ‘overpayments’ are clawed back) or removed entirely. This has a potentially devastating impact on tens of thousands of private renters. Housing charity Safer Renting fears a growing number of tenants will be told to repay benefits they received, because they live in a “shadow part” of the private renting sector.
In many cases tenants living in unlicensed Houses in Multiple Occupation are not aware that they are ineligible for housing benefit – often because their landlord has not given them a tenancy agreement, nor had their legal status explained to them.
In other arrangements, where people have moved in with friends and pay rent to a housemate (often known as a ‘rent-to-rent’ arrangement), they are also unable to provide documentation acceptable to the DWP.
By Patrick Mooney, Editor