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The Government's new welfare system is coming to Teesside and one local housing provider is helping their tenants get to grips with the changes.

Housing provider helps transition to Universal Credit

The Government's new welfare system is coming to Teesside and one local housing provider is helping their tenants get to grips with the changes.

Universal Credit is the new Government Welfare scheme that combines six working-age benefits – including Housing Benefit, Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Tax Credits – into one single payment. Although not yet fully rolled-out across the UK, Universal Credit is already available to benefit claimants in a number of Local Authority areas. And over the next six months, a number of areas in Teesside and Teesdale will also see the new system introduced, including Durham, Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland.

Housing provider North Star Housing Group, which includes Endeavour and Teesdale Housing Associations, has a dedicated welfare benefits officer, Andrea Peacock, who is offering support and advice to tenants.

Over the last three years, Andrea has helped to increase North Star tenants’ incomes by nearly £930,000. The support offered by Andrea and the North Star team includes help on a wide range of issues, including advice on Welfare Reform, setting up a hardship fund for households in financial crisis and helping them to access food banks, access to independent energy advice, signposting tenants to affordable credit providers and alternatives to loan sharks and payday lenders. North Star have also been working to carry out eco-friendly modifications to homes, to improve household energy efficiency, helping tenants to save on their household bills.

Andrea said: “We pride ourselves on putting our tenants first and we understand that the introduction of Universal Credit could seem daunting to some. Universal Credit is paid as a single monthly payment in arrears. At the moment Housing Benefit is paid straight to a tenant’s landlord in most cases, but this will change and claimants will now be responsible for managing their own rent payments.

“Help is available. If tenants are worried about having to wait for the transition to monthly payments in arrears, they may be able to ask for an advance payment, which will be paid out of future Universal Credit payments. Or if they are worried about falling into arrears, they may be able to ask the Job Centre to consider an Alternative Payment Agreement, where a portion of the Universal Credit payment is paid direct to the landlord. However, this may not cover the full amount, so Tenants need to be cautious that they don’t fall behind on their rent.