The roll-out of Universal Credit is being blamed for Highland Council rent arrears soaring by a third, topping almost £2million.
Of the 1,965 tenants who are Universal Credit (UC) cases, a total of 81% (1,579) are in arrears – with the average value of arrears per claimant amounting to £892.
In the last quarter of the financial year, between October and December, the amount of arrears stood at £1,942,665 – up almost half a million pounds from £1.501m in the same period of 2016.
In 2015, the amount was £1.35m.
Councillor Andrew Baxter, chairman of the People Committee which oversees housing issues, said: “The huge increase is a very worrying trend and is basically down to Universal Credit.
“However, this was being predicted before the roll-out of UC across the Highlands and our housing teams across the council believe it will continue.
“They are working with individuals who are maybe facing financial difficulties to see if we can address the problems they are having.”
Housing rental income generate just over £48million a year.
He warned: “The less money we generate from rent will impact on the work we are doing on social housing.
“That is why council leader Margaret Davidson has been campaigning for the UK Government to reconsider taking out the housing element of Universal Credit, because that is where the biggest problems are.”
In a report to the People Committee, which meets next week, David Goldie, the authority’s head of housing and building maintenance, said: “Rent arrears associated with Universal Credit continue to create a pressure on rental income.
“We previously estimated that during 2017/18 we would see an increase of 57 new Universal Credit claims per month.
“In the first three months since full service Universal Credit rolled out across the rest of Highland we have seen an average of 148 new claims per month.
“At 30 November 2017, the average value of rent arrears for Universal Credit claimants was £892. Of the 1,965 Universal Credit cases 81% (1,579) are in arrears.
“The average arrears level per tenancy continues to be around three times higher than those in receipt of full or partial housing benefit.”
Meanwhile, the people committee is being asked to increase housing rent by 0.5% for the 2018/19 financial year – meaning an average rise of 36p per week.