A DAMNING report by Stirling Council has linked the disastrous rollout of the UK Government’s universal credit policy to increased rent arrears and a rise in the number of food bank referrals.

The bleak assessment also makes clear there has been an increase in arrears for homeless people who use temporary accommodation.

SNP MSP Maree Todd said: “Universal Credit is driving people into hardship and ruining lives. People can’t find the means to make ends meet, to pay their rent or even feed themselves. It’s leading more and more people to turn to foodbanks just to survive.”

“That is an absolute disgrace and should deeply shame the Tory party, who are presiding over a callous and punitive welfare regime.”

Universal credit was designed to replace six means-tested benefits, including Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credits and Job Seeker’s Allowance.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), led by Tory Cabinet Minister David Gauke, is responsible for the policy. However, the rollout has been plagued by difficulties, such as claimants having to wait weeks for their first payment.

In the Stirling council area, the universal credit ‘full service’ became operational in late June for all new claims relating to working-age people who are in or out of employment.

According to a report to be presented to a council committee next month the policy has had a negative impact on vulnerable people.

The document flags up a “consequential increase” in the number of food bank referrals, especially from individuals waiting for their first Universal Credit payment.

An “increased risk of potential homelessness”, due to delays in housing costs being awarded, is also highlighted.

Councillors will also be told of an increased demand for discretionary housing payments, which are made to people struggling to pay their rent.

Specific numbers are also contained in the report, such as an increase in rent arrears among tenants who are claiming universal credit, from £13,018 on rollout day to £58,321 at the end of September.

Arrears for homeless applicants in short term accommodation stood at £135,339 on October 8, compared with £93,595 at the beginning of July.

The report added: “The impact of UCFS has placed pressure on the Scottish Welfare Fund. From the 28 June 2017 informal evidence would suggest 237 Crisis Grants have been issues totalling £37,486.02.”

Todd said: “Stirling is an utterly depressing case in point. Just three months into the full service Universal Credit and rent arrears have more than quadrupled and hundreds of people are depending on crisis grants to get by."

Stirling Councillor Chris Kane, who is the Convenor of the Community Planning and Regeneration Committee, said: "Universal Credit was rolled out in Stirling on June 28. The impact was immediate, it was significant and it is getting worse. A detailed report will be presented at the Community Planning and Regeneration Committee in November, but for now I want to assure anybody affected by the introduction of Universal Credit that Stirling Council’s officers will do all they can to help.

“We’ve been planning for the impact of the roll out of universal credit for months and our services are coping, but it is becoming clear that the impact is as bad as we had feared."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “This research is focused on a small group of claimants. The vast majority of people receive their first Universal Credit on time and in full.

“The best way to help people pay their rent and to improve their lives is to support them into work and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than the old system. We also know that over time people adjust to managing monthly payments, and reduce their arrears.”