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Glasgow blames UC for negative impact on homelessness services

Welfare reform has been slammed by a Glasgow MP following reports that the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) is exacerbating homelessness and affecting council services.

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, questioned DCLG ministers in the House of Commons earlier this week after a Glasgow City Council Integration Joint Board report revealed that homeless people in the city had been accidentally placed on the new scheme by the DWP, causing them to be in debt to the council.

The report concluded that as a result of the roll-out and budget cuts the city’s homelessness services “can no longer absorb this level of impact and continue to operate a sustainable service that meets its statutory duties”.

The grilling follows previous calls by councils for the government to reconsider the UC roll-out after Great Yarmouth Council wrote to the DWP asking it to suspend the housing benefit element, saying that delayed UC payments were leading to a rise in homelessness in the town.

“Glasgow City Council will consider a report that shows the devastating impact the universal credit roll-out is having on homelessness services in the city,” Thewliss told the local government minister Marcus Jones. “So far, it has resulted in 73 homeless individuals racking up debts to the council of £144,000, an average of £1,971 per person.

“That is completely unsustainable both for the individuals and the council. What impact is the UC roll-out having on local authorities across the UK?”

Jones responded that the government has increased discretionary housing payments to £870m by 2020 in order to mitigate the “short-term challenges” faced by people as a result of the welfare changes.

He added that 30% of savings from the local housing allowance rate will be “repurposed” to help people living in the highest value areas struggling to find affordable housing.

Thewliss called the government’s response “completely inadequate”, saying that welfare reform has led to cuts of over £6m to Glasgow’s temporary accommodation budget.

“Does the minister not accept that really to help rough sleepers and people who are homeless there must be co-ordinated work across all government departments?” she demanded. “We cannot have one department undermining the services of another.”

Jones assured Thewliss that the government is working “extremely hard on this issue” and said that the temporary accommodation management fee is being devolved to local authorities and to the Scottish government for them to oversee.  

A Glasgow City Council spokesman confirmed that the introduction of UC has already had a significant impact on the city’s budget for homelessness services, leading the council to anticipate that it will become “increasingly challenging” to deliver them when UC rolls out fully in Glasgow in 2018.

“We will continue to seek ways to mitigate the impact of these changes so we continue to operate an effective service for those affected by homelessness,” the spokesman said.

Earlier this week the government announced an extra £48m of funding to help councils expand their homelessness provision in preparation for the effects of the Homelessness Reduction Bill, although Lord Porter of the LGA warned that the true amount of funding councils would need was “difficult to predict”.

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