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In response to the global pandemic, Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit payments were increased by £20-per-week on top of the annual increment. A standard single Universal Credit claimant who is over the age of 25 will now receive £409.89 per month, rather than the previous payment of £317.82. However, this is set to be reversed in April 2021.

According to Resolution Foundation, the number of claimants of Universal Credit has rapidly increased to almost double pre-pandemic levels. Around 60% of current Universal Credit users enrolled in 2020. One in three new Universal Credit users report their income to be at least 40% lower in January 2021 than pre-pandemic.

Resolution Foundation states that the cut back in April 2021 will result in 61% of Universal Credit claiming families struggling to keep up with and falling behind on repayments. This is twice the level of families across the economy as a whole. Resolution Foundation also predicts relative child poverty to increase to 400,000 in 2021-2022 if the £20-per-week cut back takes place.

At Registry Trust we are responsible for the maintenance of the Register of Judgments, Orders, and Fines, for the UK and Ireland. Our data is therefore vital for understanding the relationship between Universal Credit use and indebtedness, through the indicator of County Court debt judgments (CCJs).

The graph below shows a distinct positive correlation between users of Universal Credit and judgment numbers. The positive relationship shows that Local Authorities with more Universal Credit users, typically have higher rates of consumer CCJs.

RT Universal Credit blog graph 1.png

Note: Universal Credit data and judgment data is for 2019 to represent a typical year pre-pandemic. City of London was excluded from calculations due to skewing of the results. Population density has been accounted for by taking each measurement as per 10,000 of the population of each Local Authority.

This reduction in payment due to come into effect at the start of April reduces weekly Universal Credit from £102 to just £79 per week; 6 million families are expected to receive £1,000 less each year. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that an additional 500,000 people will be plunged into a state of poverty when this roll back takes place.

The chart below shows the top 10 Local Authorities with the highest and lowest number of persons using Universal Credit, and their corresponding judgment level, per 10,000 of the population. It is possible that the regions with already high Universal Credit use may suffer greatest from the decline in payment. The Local Authority with the highest Universal Credit use is Hartlepool, at 1,013 per 10,000 of the population. Hartlepool is followed by Great Yarmouth, Burnley, Hastings, and Halton. These regions also have particularly high CCJ debt levels compared to Local Authorities with low Universal Credit use. Local Authorities with low Universal Credit use include the Isles of Scilly, Hart, South Northamptonshire, and Waverley, each of which also have low numbers of judgments.

Table 1:

RT Universal Credit blog table 1.PNG

A similar trend is shown when using three-year averages (from 2017 to 2019) of judgment levels and persons on Universal Credit.

RT Universal Credit blog graph 2.png

Note: An average of Universal Credit data and judgment data is taken for 2017, 2018 and 2019. City of London was excluded from calculations due to skewing of the results. Population density has been accounted for by taking each measurement as per 10,000 of the population of each Local Authority.

An average of the previous three ‘normal’ (pandemic-free) years shows the most vulnerable residents to the reduction of Universal Credit to be in the same geographical location as when analysing 2019 on its own. With high levels of judgments continuing to accompany the high Universal Credit use, Hartlepool, Great Yarmouth, Halton, Hasting, and Burnley remain the top five most financially vulnerable local authorities to £20-per-week reduction.

Table 2:

RT Universal Credit blog table 2.PNG

Registry Trust expects to see an increase in judgments; representative of the increased financial struggles for the 6 million families who will receive reduced payments this April. It is difficult to forecast just how this increase in debt will take place, however a greater prevalence of judgments may occur in regions with high Universal Credit use, as these residents have greater reliance on such support.

Once the reduction in Universal Credit takes place, judgments will not occur immediately. A period of time will follow where the individual or business enters a state of debt, and a judgment is placed against them. During this time, intervention from money/debt advice organisations could reduce the number of residents in the most vulnerable Local Authorities from receiving judgments, thus experiencing greater financial pressures with a CCJ against them. This blog highlights areas which are likely to be most vulnerable to the reduction in Universal Credit, therefore providing the opportunity for policy makers and debt charities to concentrate their support in the necessary regions.

If you have a CCJ against you which you have paid in full, it is vital you contact the courts to ‘satisfy’ it, to reduce the negative effects of a judgment on the Register on your credit file. If you are a current recipient of Universal Credit and feel anxious about the forthcoming decline in payment, we advise you seek free money/debt advice either online, over-the-phone, or face-to-face, from one of the leading charities, such as StepChange or Citizens Advice.

Our public website TrustOnline, where anyone can check a person, business or case number on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines, has lots of useful information about CCJs, credit scores and more to help boost ‘financial fitness’. Visit https://www.trustonline.org.uk/help-topics/.

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