IT is the UK Government’s flagship programme and the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for decades.

But latest figures show - despite being rolled out to 60 per cent of Job Centres in Scotland - only around 3,500 people north of the border are currently claiming Universal Credit.

It was originally predicted that one million people in the UK would be on the new benefit by April 2014, but the project, championed by UK Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, has been dogged by criticism and delays.

The cost of the scheme was recently reported to have spiralled to nearly £16 billion, while £130 million of taxpayers’ money has been written off since 2011 because of failures in IT associated with the project.

In another blow to the scheme, nearly 1,500 members of the Public and Commercial Services union who process Universal Credit claims at two service centres in Glasgow and Bolton will stage a two-day strike from tomorrow (MON) over “oppressive” working conditions.

And charities have raised concerns that lengthy waiting times of up to six weeks before benefits are paid under the new system will lead to a rise in rent arrears and homelessness.

Across the UK around 65,000 people are now claiming Universal Credit - in Scotland, the total in May was 2,381 while the provisional figure for June was 3,589.

SNP MSP Clare Adamson said: These are absolutely disastrous figures for Iain Duncan Smith and show the abject failure of the Tories’ Universal Credit.

“The implementation of Universal Credit has been a fiasco from the start with officials being unable to explain the reasoning behind their timescales or their feasibility, inept computer systems, and no real management.”

Many charities say they support the principles behind Universal Credit – which aims to simplify the system by bringing together six existing benefit types and incentivise work, but have concerns about how it will work in practice.

New rules due to come into force from August mean there will be seven ‘waiting days’ for any benefits which are then paid monthly - rather than fortnightly like many current benefits. It is estimated this could mean claimants having to wait for up to six weeks for any money, taking into account the time to process applications.

Annie Mauger, executive director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland, said: “We know that over half of all working age adults living in poverty in Scotland are in working households. It is difficult to see how people who are already struggling to get by when in work are expected to be saving money for when they may not be.”

Graeme Brown, director of housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, said: “Shelter Scotland has concerns about what the roll out of Universal Credit will mean in practice in Scotland.

“Specifically, we are concerned that claimants will need to wait seven days before being able to claim Universal Credit and with payments being made once-monthly in arrears we fear this could lead to a rise in rent arrears and homelessness.”

Under the new Universal Credit system, the benefit to cover housing costs is also paid to claimants, instead of the current system where it is sent directly to social landlords, for example.

But Citizens Advice Scotland pointed out this could leave claimants facing the difficult choice of whether to spend their rent money on food if they are sanctioned and their Universal Credit payment is reduced, for example.

Rob Gowans, policy officer at Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), said: “Whilst CAS supports the principles behind Universal Credit, we think there are some improvements that should be made to avoid some of the problems we see clients facing.

“For instance, we’re seeing some Universal Credit claimants building up rent arrears because they’ve received a benefit sanction, or because they haven’t been made aware that they need to pay rent out of their Universal Credit payment.

“We would support the housing element being paid directly to social landlords, as housing benefit currently is.”

The forthcoming Scotland Bill will give the Scottish Government control over some as aspects of the benefit, such as changing the frequency of payments and paying housing costs directly to landlords.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This will enable us to ensure that its implementation will be better suited to the needs of people.

“Scottish Government and DWP officials are working together to implement flexibility as soon as possible.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said Universal Credit was being delivered in a “safe and secure way”, limiting disruption to claimants and allowing the system to be tested.

She said: “We are on track with our plans for the national roll out of Universal Credit to single claimants, couples and families.

“The Department is not setting targets for numbers in receipt of Universal Credit. Numbers will vary according to a variety of factors such as economic circumstances over time and the behavioural change of claimants.”

She added: “Universal Credit is working - our evidence shows that claimants find work quicker, stay in work longer and earn more.”

The spokeswoman added that only a “small minority” of universal credit workers would be taking part in strike action.