Scottish Government will use new powers to make changes to the way benefits are paid
New powers will be used by the Scottish Government to make Universal Benefit more flexible for Scots benefits’ claimants, it has been announced.
Holyrood has said it will use new social security powers devolved from Westminster to make Universal Credit (UC) less of a burden.
That means the frequency of payments will be increased from monthly to fortnightly and that housing payments will be paid directly to landlords instead of claimants.
Social security minister Jeane Freeman said: “When you're on a very tight budget as people on benefits are, then it is very hard to budget that amount over a whole month.
"Knowing that a payment is coming to you, for the benefit that you are entitled to every fortnight, makes that budgeting exercise easier for those households and that means you can make better decisions and be more in control of your finances over those two-week periods.
"Universal Credit remains reserved to the UK government but work with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to deliver the powers over the flexibilities is progressing and our priority is to ensure that, when these are devolved to us, we are ready and able to implement them in a way that best meets the needs of the people of Scotland."
The use of new flexibilities around UC marks the first use of new social security powers under the Scotland Act 2016.
New applicants who live in full service areas – local authority areas where a digital claiming system has been established by the UK government – will be given the option of twice-monthly payments instead of the DWP’s current monthly payment system.
We are ready and able to implement them in a way that best meets the needs of the people of Scotland - Jeane Freeman
The Scottish Government said a further consultation will take place to shape what other UC flexibilities Holyrood may decide to implement at a later date.
John Downie, director of public affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “The decision to increase the frequency of Universal Credit payments and to offer the option of paying the housing element direct to landlords is a welcome one and reflects suggestions SCVO made in both our consultation response and the evidence we gave to the Social Security Committee."
He added: “We hope that the Scottish Government will continue to build on this positive action – particularly in addressing concerns regarding the inability to split household payments between recipients and the establishment of a charter, which will enshrine human rights in law.”
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “It’s welcome news that both social renters and private renters will have the option of having the housing support element of Universal Credit paid directly to their landlords.
"This is a more sensible, personalised approach than the current one-size-fits-all approach.
“The idea of bi-monthly payments instead of monthly is also a helpful move forward. The key now is to ensure a smooth transition to a system that delivers payments without delays.
“Changes to social security in Scotland should have dignity and fairness at their heart and be aimed at truly helping vulnerable people or people on low incomes have a decent standard of living and helping them keep a safe, secure home over their head without the fear of sanctions, arrears, eviction and homelessness."
Mary Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said: “Even before our involvement in the Smith Commission Stakeholder Group, we had been campaigning for the housing element of Universal Credit to be able to be paid directly to our members, as has been the case with housing benefit.
“We welcome that the Scottish Government has prioritised introducing this flexibility as well as the ability to vary the frequency of payments as these measures should help to ease the financial pressure on tenants.
“Our members house some of Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable people – most of whom are eligible for support with their housing costs. Direct payments to landlords and more frequent payments should help to ensure that tenants who choose these options can be more financially secure and able to sustain their tenancy.
“Our members will also benefit from these flexibilities as rent makes up the majority of housing associations’ income and is therefore vital in order for them to operate. Any reduction in rental income seriously threatens their ability to provide affordable housing and services.
“Together with our members, we stand ready to work with the Scottish Government and others to shape Scotland’s new social security system and ensure that the most vulnerable people in our country are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.”