The effects of Universal Credit in affluent Yorkshire areas

Universal credit is accentuating the lack of access to housing in some of Yorkshire's most affluent areas as 'hidden poverty' blights the region's wealthier communities, charity officials have warned.

Harrogate town centre.
Harrogate town centre.

While areas such as Harrogate and York have a reputation for wealth – with the highest average housing costs in the region, according to one organisation – people working with those affected by changes to the benefits system believe it could be making the financial situations of some people worse.

The Yorkshire Post today continues its week-long series on Universal Credit.

Julie Everill works with the Harrogate Homeless Project (HHP), a service which has seen a rise in demand since the North Yorkshire town was one of the first in the country to see Universal Credit – which is replacing six other benefits – rolled out.

Miss Everill said: “About five to six years ago we reported one of the highest rough sleeper counts in the country. I think part of the reason for that is the fact that Harrogate is an affluent town.

“Private landlords here have the ability to charge more, are more selective, housing is in high demand and the kind of one-bedroom flat and accommodation maybe our people would be looking at is at an absolute premium.

“Maybe in cities or other places you would find cheaper accommodation. Here it’s a constant battle.”

According to the National Housing Federation’s Home Truths Study 2017/18, average house prices in Harrogate were the region’s most expensive at £330,182, with York following at £263,262, compared to the Yorkshire average of £181,740.

The mean monthly private sector rent rate in Harrogate was £835, and £866 in York, compared to £573 across the region.

The North Yorkshire averages as a whole were £244,690 for house prices and £655 for private rent.

Miss Everill said: “A few years ago, Harrogate was part of the roll-out of Universal Credit.

“Prior to that, if somebody wanted private rented and were willing to move to another area, we could get them housed very quickly in Leeds.

“(After) Universal Credit, none of the private landlords in Leeds would touch people on Universal Credit with a barge pole.”

One HHP visitor Jayde Shaw, 25, moved from Blackpool to Harrogate when she was 18, and has been on UC for four years after moving over from Jobseeker’s Allowance. She said: “I’ve just worked full-time for six months. I’ve had a recent change in life and I’m not working at the moment. This month after coming out of work I’ve received £192, but that’s because they’ve taken into consideration my earnings from last month.

“I think it was better when there were different types of benefits. Universal Credit puts everyone on the same benefit when we’re not all the same.”

Speaking about Harrogate, Miss Shaw said: “It’s hard to live here, it’s hard. There is a lot of money here. It’s hidden, the people who are poor. It’s hidden well, unless you come to a place like this.”

Harrogate Borough Council said it provides online support for completing Universal Credit claims and also offers residents a ‘managing your money’ service that helps with budgeting and debt. There is support available through Council Tax reduction and discretionary housing payments, the authority said.

“We have also partnered with the Leeds Credit Union to offer a range of financial services including savings, loans and low-cost purchasing of household white goods,” a spokesman said.

Tom Brittain, assistant director of housing and community safety at City of York Council, said: “We recognise that while Universal Credit works well for some, for others it’s not so straightforward to live in a city like York which has high housing prices and relatively low incomes.

“We’re working with the DWP and the voluntary sector to continue to support residents before and during their UC claims, and with budgeting.”