A benefit claimant who faced debt, rent arrears and potential eviction as a result of policy design flaws in universal credit, has tragically committed suicide.
The tenant apparently fell into depression, owed in part to the universal credit rules that require claimants to wait at least six weeks for a first benefit payment meaning many are going without basic living essentials, due to a lack of money.
The heartbreaking tale was unveiled at the end of last week on LBC, a London-based national talk and phone-in radio station, when a landlord called in to speak with the presenter James O’Brien about the tragedy.
The landlord had initially reported the dilemma the tenant had faced on the very same radio station last October, and had called back on Friday to offer an update on the sad situation, and once again flag up some of the problems that universal credit is creating for many people.
The landlord, who rents out homes to many tenants who are benefit claimants, told O’Brien that the situation with universal credit was getting worse.
Speaking live on air, he said: “Unfortunately, the chap who I previously spoke about, he killed himself in our apartment. About two weeks after, there was a payment made to him.
“He was known to the local authorities. His mental health was getting worse due to the fact that he couldn’t afford to do anything.”
Ministers have long been urged to review the national rollout of universal credit and to increase support for vulnerable claimants who are struggling to cope with the demands of monthly payments and an increasingly online-only system.
An investigation by the Guardian earlier this year found that eight out of 10 social housing tenants moved on to universal credit are falling into rent arrears or increasing the level of pre-existing arrears, with many families unable to manage the regulation 42-day wait for a first payment often referred to food banks by housing associations or local MPs.
Crucially, uncertainty about the system has contributed to a dramatic decline in the number of private landlords willing to take on benefit recipients, even if they are in work.