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Credit unions

September 9th 2010

Paying rent is stressful for both tenants and landlords; the tenant is under pressure to meet regular payments, while the landlord is worried that their tenant won't pay on time. The previous government's decision to pay housing benefit directly to tenants was criticised for making the situation worse, leading to landlords refusing to accept those on housing benefit.

However, help is being provided by a growing number of credit unions across the UK. In Scotland, for example, Scotwest credit union and homeless charity South Ayrshire Escape from Homelessness (SeAscape) have joined forces to support tenants and help them avoid falling into rent arrears.

SeAscape offers rent deposit guarantees for people living in South Ayrshire. Under the new scheme, everyone who the charity helps into a property automatically joins Glasgow-based credit union Scotwest. Staff at SeAscape create a credit union account for the tenant into which their Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is paid, then Scotwest passes this onto their landlord. The excess - up to £15 - goes to the tenant to support their income.

Scotwest charge a handling fee of £10 every four weeks, per tenant, however this is met by the landlords. Billy, a member of staff at SeAscape, told The Pavement: "The majority of landlords are [happy to pay this] because they're guaranteed that they're getting the money every four weeks."

George Rose, landlord liaison officer at SeAscape, explained the benefits of the scheme. "Our tenants are relieved that Seascape and Scotwest have provided them with a solution to manage their rent payments," he says. "It was particularly difficult for our more vulnerable tenants to deal with their rent before we set up this scheme. Our landlords are also now much more confident that their tenants will not fall into rent arrears in future."

For Rod Ashley, chief executive of Scotwest, the scheme is also helping the credit union to reach out to more people. "By becoming members, the tenants also have the opportunity to use our other services, which will help to encourage them to look carefully at their finances and regularly save small amounts if possible. They will also be able to seek help and advice that perhaps they would not have been able to get access to previously."

Last October, Grant Shapps - then shadow housing minister, now housing minister - said if the Conservatives came into power, tenants would be able to choose to have their housing allowance paid direct to landlords instead of themselves. However, Daniel Barnes from the Department for Work and Pensions press department told The Pavement this has not yet been implemented and there are currently no plans to change the policy.




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