THE roll out of full service Universal Credit has been picking up pace this month, with more than 30 ‘service areas’ scheduled to move across to the new benefit, including Dingwall, Fort William and Wick.

After a hiatus in August and September the programme for implementing Universal Credit – which incorporates and replaces half a dozen previous benefits, including Jobseekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit – becomes turbo-charged. Kilmarnock, Hamilton and East Kilbride are among around 50 areas seeing roll-out, and the same number will be added in November and December and every month into 2018.

You’d think this must be because the Department for Work and Pensions is hearing that everything is going smoothly. But that is far from the case. Citizen’s Advice Scotland reported recently that its bureaux were helping two per cent fewer clients with rent arrears, UK wide, but 15 per cent more in areas where UC is rolled out. Demand for help with Crisis grant claims is up nine per cent nationally, but ten times that rise is seen in areas with ‘full service’ UC, CAS says.

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The DWP told me that advice bureaux clients were self-selecting – the very fact individuals contact them for help means they are having problems, therefore perhaps not representative.

But when I contacted councils covering areas affected up until June, a small number at a time when when only around half a dozen were being added a month, all those which responded, or had had time to assess the impact, confirmed concerns about rising rent arrears and other difficulties.

The latest DWP figures show around 540,000 people are currently in receipt of UC, despite an original target of putting seven million claimants on the benefit by this year. Roll-out has already been a history of delays and problems which perhaps explains the DWP’s deafness to calls for a further pause. The Scottish Government at one point was asking for UC implementation to be delayed in Scotland, given the new powers Holyrood has gained to amend UC. This too has fallen on deaf ears.

It doesn’t bode well, and bear in mind that most of those in receipt of UC so far are the least complicated cases, such as single people and new claimants.