Changes to the benefit system could lead to a rise in domestic abuse, children going hungry and homelessness, according to a senior council official.

Individuals are already suffering as a result of the UK Government's welfare reform agenda, and more problems are on the horizon, Dumfries and Galloway Council chief executive Gavin Stevenson said.

Replacing housing benefit, which is paid to landlords, with the new universal credit, paid to individuals, may result in more domestic violence and homelessness, he told Holyrood's Local Government and Regeneration Committee.

East Ayrshire Council finance director Alex McPhee told the committee that rent arrears there have increased more than threefold since the introduction of the spare room subsidy, or "bedroom tax".

Three-quarters of the council's tenants are now behind with their rent, he said.

According to Inverclyde Council finance director Alan Puckrin, Scotland Office Minister David Mundell has been warned that councils do not have enough money to mitigate the impact welfare reform will have on council services.

Mr Stevenson acknowledged that not everyone affected by the bedroom tax, which deducts housing benefit from those deemed to have spare rooms in their home, faces poverty.

But he called for more time to weed out those who can pay but will not pay, and focus on those who are genuinely struggling.

All three witnesses are senior council officials who are not aligned to any political party and have a duty to present evidence impartially.

Mr Stevenson said: "The real issue about welfare reform is the impact it would have perhaps in rises in domestic violence if we start paying money back to men in families and individuals rather than landlords, and potential rises in debt homelessness even though we say we don't want it to get there.

"In health, it's great to see communities pulling together and gathering food parcels, but if you look at what's in the food parcels it's tins of spaghetti. In 10 years we will be increasing obesity, so there's something about being able to channel money into preventative work and healthy eating.

"Also, there's an issue of children turning up hungry to school as families are making different choices.

"Not every person affected by the bedroom tax cannot afford to pay it. At the moment we need to get over the hump of what is the can-pay-won't-pay element of that, and then see where it settles down. Our job is to get time to see who are the real vulnerable that are really struggling with this so we can target our resources.

"I would have asked the Government in Westminster to have given an extra year to have worked with individuals and families on how to manage their finances better, rather than the short, sharp shock."

Mr Puckrin said: "We had a visit from David Mundell who came round all councils gathering evidence, and the information we pulled together and received independently was that in Inverclyde the impact in 2013-14 alone, with the culmination of all welfare reform impacts, was £10 million.

"Now the council's put £1 million in but that leaves a £9 million impact that the councils cannot pound-swap with the Department of Work and Pensions' reductions.

"There will be an impact on households and individuals, with a knock-on impact to the local economy and rent arrears.

"Long term there's going to be huge pressure on social housing and if there is a long-term reduction in rental income, that's going to impact on investment and the impact is likely to be in the social care side of things if people don't react well to the reductions in funding."

Mr McPhee said: "There are 2,300 individuals in our council houses who have been impacted by the bedroom tax. At April 1, 500 of them had some level of rent arrears. By May 17, 1,700 of them have some level of rent arrears.

"If that continues over the year, we will see a £500,000 increase in lost rent, which could knock on to a reduction in investment and repairs in new housing of about £9 million a year."

The DWP said alternative payment arrangements to the universal credit may be required to protect household members in a minority of cases, such as those at risk of domestic violence.

It is working with the agencies on putting the right support in place for those that need budgeting support, a spokeswoman said.

Universal credit will provide clarity about total household income and enable claimants to take responsibility for managing their finances, she said.

The deduction in housing benefit for those with spare bedrooms is designed to cut housing waiting lists and overcrowded homes, according to the DWP.

People can either choose to make up the shortfall in their rent which on average is £14 a week, or find more appropriately sized accommodation, she said.

The spokeswoman said: "There are many alarmist claims about benefit changes but the facts are that our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families and universal credit will make three million households better off.

"It's only right we return fairness to the system, and we've put personalised support in place and £10 million in extra funding has been provided for Scotland, so that families in vulnerable circumstances are protected."