Housing providers must not be complacent about the impact of welfare reform, an expert has warned. 

According to new figures from auditor Baker Tilly, 51 per cent of housing associations believe changes to the welfare system will lead to tenants falling into rent arrears during 2015-16.

However, the survey showed that just 4.14 per cent of tenants are expected to slip into arrears during this period.

This is lower than the prediction of 4.82 per cent that was made when the same survey was carried out a year ago.

Peter Lunio, associate director of Baker Tilly Risk Advisory Services, said the figures show that social housing providers have not suffered from the levels of rent arrears and voids "that many had feared".

He pointed out that while many were expecting developments such as the under-occupancy penalty and the benefit cap to lead to a "big bang", delays to the rollout of universal credit mean "this simply hasn't happened".

Mr Lunio said only around 18,000 people are on universal credit, whereas it had been expected to be approximately one million people by this time.

He suggested that the upcoming general election could be "casting further doubt on the future implementation timetable", along with a warning from the Public Accounts Committee that delivering the programme successfully is more important than doing it by a specific date.

Mr Lunio went on to note that many of its clients have invested in new permanent and temporary staff to provide various support services to tenants, as well as increased spending on income and rent collection officers.

He added that the fact most providers have retained these people shows they have obtained value from these roles. 

Nevertheless, Mr Lunio insisted that they cannot become complacent about the impact of universal credit, as once the rollout is "firmly underway, the impact on social landlords could be significant".

He stated that while "we might not have had the big bang, the fuse is still burning".