A report from Sheffield Hallam University suggests that housing providers could face huge financial problems because their IT systems simply aren’t ready for the introduction of universal credit, with some housing providers unable to access even the most basic data on their tenants.
The independent study, carried out by the university on behalf of Housing Partners, found that nearly nine out of 10 housing providers don’t have access to the data they need to manage the introduction of direct payments to tenants. Many are also struggling to identify individual vulnerable tenants who should perhaps not move onto direct payments or will need extensive support.
The survey of 172 housing providers by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam also found housing providers don’t have the necessary technology to deal with the policy change.
This follows earlier research by the university and the Department for Work and Pensions that suggested that tenant arrears were almost five times higher using the new benefit system set to be established nationally by 2017.
Professor David Robinson from Sheffield Hallam University, said, “These figures show that housing providers are bracing themselves for financial difficulties following the introduction of universal credit. It will have a major effect on their operations and more than one-third consider direct payments to be a threat to their financial viability.
“Virtually all landlords (98 per cent) expect to see an increase in rent arrears, one-third expect direct payments to affect their relationship with institutional lenders, and a quarter consider universal credit to be a threat to their new-build programmes.”
Only 20 per cent of housing providers said that staff could easily access information about the vulnerabilities or support needs of tenants, and over half of them said that their IT systems were limiting their ability to prepare for universal credit.
Richard Blundell, CEO, Housing Partners, said, “The implementation of direct payments represents a huge shift for all housing providers, and what this study shows is how vital it will be to have the right data and, more importantly, be able to use it.
“With the survey showing that housing providers estimate that 26 per cent of tenants will struggle to pay their rent even with maximum support, the need to have the right information and the right technology to take advantage of it is even clearer.”