In October 2016, the Smith Institute was commissioned by the London Borough of Southwark, in partnership with the London Borough of Croydon, Peabody and Family Mosaic to undertake research into the impact of Universal Credit (UC) roll out on tenants, with specific regard to rent payment behaviours and the support tenants were receiving.
The terms of reference were to understand:
- How is the early roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) affecting rent payment behaviours among residents in social housing tenants in the London borough of Southwark?
- How are identified changes in behaviour – or the absence of behaviour change – affecting the tenancies of those social housing tenants who are receiving housing cost support under the new arrangements?
The work undertaken to answer these questions was split into two pieces of research. The first was an analysis of 775 tenants’ rent accounts to give a quantitative understanding of how rent behaviours were changing (compared with rent accounts of those moving onto Housing Benefit); how rent behaviour changed over time; whether any arrears accrued were paid down and whether there were any differences in rent payment behaviour between different groups. The second piece of research was a qualitative study commissioned by the Smith Institute and undertaken by the research company BritainThinks. This work involved undertaking 36 in-depth telephone interviews and four focus groups with tenants. The purpose was to: understand their journey once they found out they were on UC; document and evaluate their understanding of the new system; and examine what worked and what could be done better.
The findings show the challenges faced by all those involved with the new system (details of the changes are outlined at the start of both reports). The rent account analysis by the Smith Institute highlights the financial implications of UC and how this changes over time, while the qualitative work gives a sense of the challenges that UC present to tenants, not least during the period between making a claim and receiving their first payment.
At the end of both reports key issues are highlighted where efforts may be best focused to improve the system, which is still being rolled out incrementally across the country.