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Scottish councils join condemnation of universal credit

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Pressure mounts of UK government to halt controversial roll-out

Scotland’s councils have joined MSPs, campaigners and charities to call for a halt to universal credit.

The new scheme, which is being rolled out more widely across the UK this month, is being attacked from all sides with local government body CoSLA now the latest to join in the chorus of criticism.

Social security minister Jeane Freeman and Kelly Parry, the community well-being spokeswoman for Cosla, highlighted failures in the new system in a joint letter to UK work and pensions secretary David Gauke.

Universal credit was the brainchild of former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.

It was designed to bundle several benefits into a single payment and allow those in work to keep a greater slice of state support.

However, charities and councils warn that a six-week wait for payments is causing hardship, and the government’s own welfare advisers have said the wait is too long and cannot be justified.

Senior Conservative MPs have also voiced unease about the universal credit system with 12 writing to Gauke raising their concerns last week.

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 Gauke states.

The letter 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.

"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."

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Universal credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes. It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.

“And it’s working. With universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal credit is already in every jobcentre for single claimants, and we are rolling it out to a wider range of people in a safe and controlled way.

"The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support were available for anyone who needed it."

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said it welcomed calls to halt the new system.

SFHA's head of public affairs Sarah Boyack said: "While we are not against Universal Credit, we want to see the roll-out of the policy postponed until it is proven to work. There is a growing body of evidence that universal credit is not performing as it should, and we are hearing this first-hand from our members.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the DWP’s failure to process claims promptly, combined with the huge rise in volume and complexity, will have catastrophic consequences for some of the most vulnerable in our society, with some people waiting up to six weeks before they receive a penny.

"Many cases are causing people to fall into arrears, which could ultimately lead to homelessness."