Benefit reforms could leave vulnerable tenants with mounting rent arrears and ultimately leave them homeless, housing associations have warned.
The UK Government's new universal credit will give claimants a lump sum of cash which they are expected to pass on to their landlord, in contrast to housing benefit which is paid directly to landlords.
The changes also include an under-occupancy charge, the "bedroom tax", which will cut benefits by up to 25% if tenants have empty bedrooms. As costs for fuel and food rise, tenants will also face a below-inflation increase to their benefits as a result of the UK Government's Uprating Bill.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said these measures will put a strain on housing associations and co-operatives as they struggle to cope with missed payments from tenants. Nine out of 10 Scottish housing associations and co-operatives surveyed predict that rent arrears will rise.
SFHA chief executive Dr Mary Taylor said: "Tenants in the affordable social housing sector will be facing real hardships as a result of welfare cuts which will impact upon vulnerable people and those living on low incomes.
"This measure doesn't just target the unemployed, it will hit people in low-paid work as well as the disabled: people who are already struggling to get by at a time when fuel and food costs are on the rise and jobs are scarce. At worst, these changes may result in an increase in homelessness.
"Housing associations and co-operatives are doing their best to prepare for the impacts with information to tenants and support to downsize where possible, but there is a lack of small properties in Scotland for people to move to.
"The SFHA is concerned that most housing associations and co-operatives are predicting increased rent arrears.
"Housing policy has up until now provided long-term homes for people, taking into account their future needs as well. If tenants cannot pay for the bedrooms that they were allocated and no longer need, that presents a risk to rental income.
"The under-occupancy penalty is unfair on tenants. Any increase in rent arrears could put funding for housing associations and co-operatives at risk, with a knock-on effect on their ability to build the homes that are urgently needed today."