Council leaders have joined forces with Scottish ministers in a fresh plea for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be halted north of the border.
In a joint letter to UK Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke, Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman and Kelly Parry, community well-being spokeswoman for local government body Cosla, highlighted “abject failures” in the new system.
Universal Credit was brought in with the aim of simplifying the benefits system by bringing together a number of different social security payments.
But Ms Freeman said it was “fundamentally flawed” and “causing unnecessary hardship and suffering to families across Scotland”.
The full service, where people use an online account to manage their claim or apply for a benefit, is already up and running in parts of the country and is due to be introduced in full by the end of next year.
However, Scottish ministers have complained that people who are moved onto full service have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment.
Levels of rent arrears among those receiving Universal Credit are at least 2.5 times higher than for those who still receive Housing Benefit, the letter to Mr Gauke states.
In the local authority areas where the new system has been rolled out – Highland, East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire, and Inverclyde – councils recorded a rise in discretionary housing payments of over £343,000 while welfare fund crisis grants went up by more than £94,000.
The four councils also claim to have incurred more than £830,000 extra administrative costs as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit.
The Scottish Government has previously called for the roll-out of the system to be halted, with Scottish Labour making a similar plea in recent months.
Ms Freeman said: “Universal Credit is failing the people it is designed to support. The in-built six-week wait for the first payment – which is often even longer – is unacceptable and pushing people into crisis and rent arrears, having to rely on food banks and emergency payments to get by.
“The Universal Credit pilots have also highlighted problems with monthly payments, removing landlord direct payments and making a single household payment.
“Despite the clear evidence of these failures the Department for Work and Pensions still refuses to acknowledge the severity of the problem. This incompetency cannot continue. It is time UK Ministers faced up to the facts and stepped up to support people and stop the roll-out of a failing system.”
The minister spoke out ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit is already in every job centre for single claimants, and we are rolling it out to a wider range of people in a safe and controlled way.
“The majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.
“The Scottish Government now has significant welfare powers including flexibility over Universal Credit payments.”
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