Incoming Apex Housing Association boss, Sheena McCallion, believes the full roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) over the next four years in Derry will affect a significant proportion of tenants.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ prior to taking up the new role at the end of the month she said the UC system, which replaced Housing Benefit for new claimants in Derry at the start of the year, was already affecting 5% of its keyholders.
But Ms. McCallion predicted this was likely to get even worse when all benefits recipients started transferring to UC between 2019 and 2022.
“Welfare reform is going to impact a very significant proportion of our tenants. Not just those who aren’t in work but those who are in paid employment. There are real challenges in terms of helping tenants to sustain their tenancies and make ends meet.”
Ms. McCallion said Apex operated a number of support mechanisms for tenants and ran clinics at organisations such as the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, Triax and the Greater Shantallow Area Partnership to try to provide timely housing and benefits advice.
“We work, for example, very closely with the Derry Credit Union. We recognise people are struggling financially so we’ve developed a partnership to try and stop people using doorstep lenders and adopt sensible borrowing but we know as well that people are on the bread line.
“They are finding it difficult. They are finding it challenging. As more people go on through to UC it’s going to become more serious, particularly with the initial period of assessment where people go on the benefit. The average [wait for payment under UC] is five to six weeks but we have experience of people not being assessed for up to three months and that is really, really difficult,” she said.