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Glasgow City Council has raised the alarm about the introduction of Universal Credit – due to be in place across the city within 18 months – which, it claims, will put its ability to provide homeless services at risk.
The concerns are raised in a paper due to be presented to the city’s Integration Joint Board next Wednesday. It reveals that the council has already racked up £144,000 in arrears from just 73 homeless Universal Credit claimants. Those receiving the benefit do not receive the full cost of temporary accommodation provided.
The council has already been working with the Scottish Housing Regulator of over a year because of its failure to provide temporary accommodation to all unintentionally homeless people, a legal obligation in Scotland. It now claims that under current Universal Credit proposals it will not be able to run a service that meets its statutory duties.
The paper notes that: “The city’s Homelessness Services is dependent on housing benefit/rental income for a significant percentage of its front line staffing to manage operational demand.”
It highlights that homeless people who have been put on to Universal Credit, often in error, are unable to return to Job Seekers Allowance with arrears now putting strain on a budget that already runs at a £1.4million annual deficit.
But it also claims that when the Universal Credit roll-out is completed in September 2018, services for homeless people, temporary accommodation and staff jobs will all be affected.
“The welfare reforms identified in this paper constitute a major risk to the delivery of statutory homelessness services in Glasgow, with particular concerns in relation to front line staffing, delivery of statutory services, provision of temporary furnished accommodation, which is also a statutory duty, and in relation to the existing recurring budgetary pressure of £1.4m,” it states.
The paper, which offers no solutions at this stage concludes: “Following on from the significant savings applied to budgets in the past 5 years, Homelessness Services can no longer absorb this level of impact and continue to operate a sustainable service that meets its statutory duties.”
Sandy Farquharson, director of Glasgow’s Marie Trust day centre, said the paper caused him “considerable concern” as he had previously been “totally unaware” of the long-term consequences of Universal Credit on homeless services.
“The consequences for the council so far for those people affected by homelessness who have already been transferred to Universal Credit in error are quite alarming,” he added. “There is no way the council can sustain this level of loss of income both now and in the future and deliver current services to those affected by homelessness.
“It is right and proper that the council is flagging up their concerns at this stage so that Government policy can be challenged at this stage and in the future.”
Shelter Scotland called for solutions to be found. Alison Watson, Deputy Director for Shelter Scotland, said: “By its own admission, Glasgow City Council is already turning people away who have a statutory right to access temporary accommodation. Raising the alarm like this must now be followed up with urgent action to ensure that funding remains in place for high-quality temporary accommodation.”
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “Welfare reform has already had a significant impact on our budget for homelessness services.
“The introduction of universal credit is placing further pressure on homelessness budgets and it is anticipated that delivery of these services will become increasingly challenging.
“We will continue to seek ways to mitigate the impact of these changes so that we continue to operate an effective service for those affected by homelessness.”
A DWP spokesman added: "One person without a home is one too many and we are investing over £500m to tackle homelessness and stop it happening in the first place.
"Local Authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their residents, that's why we will have provided them with around £1bn in funding by 2020 to support people transitioning to our reforms."