RENT arrears in North Ayrshire have risen by more than 25 per cent since the Universal Credit was rolled out in the local area.

In a question to North Ayrshire Council, Labour Councillor John Sweeney asked how many tenants were in arrears and it was revealed that 79.1 per cent of those claiming the new benefit are behind with their payments.

The Labour administration have said the sharp rise in rent arrears was expected but the figures provide hard evidence of the adverse impact the Tories have imposed on Universal Credit claimants.

NAC Council Leader Joe Cullinane said: “After only six months of Universal Credit we have already seen rent arrears rocket. Not only is that a risk to the council in terms of budgets but behind these statistics are individuals and families who are being pushed into debt by this cruel Tory Government.

“We warned that this would happen. Evidence from areas where full service was already rolled out showed increases in rent arrears and personal debt. Labour called on the Tory Government to halt the rollout of Universal Credit and fix it before it sent people into debt, poverty and deprivation but they went ahead regardless.”

But Tory Group Leader of North Ayrshire Council, Cllr Tom Marshall, hit back at his Labour rival and said that the new system is ‘better, simpler and more flexible’.

Cllr Marshall said: “Universal Credit (UC) is a better, simpler and more flexible system that helps more people into work. Four out of five claimants are satisfied with the service and the majority feel that is financially motivates them into work.

“UC also makes payments of rent direct to a council tenant allowing them the responsibility of themselves paying their rent direct to the council. This after all is public money. The system is working well since the rate of collection of council house rent is approx 96 per cent – a figure similar to that for domestic rates.

“It is clear that some people are challenged by now having to take responsibility for themselves paying their rent. However, as noted these persons have the ability to have their rent paid direct to the council. I am sure that as the system settles in the Welfare Reform Advice Team will enable more tenants to become responsible for rent payments and so avoid arrears “Important improvements have been made to Universal Credit and it is seeing people move into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. 

“There are a number of other countries who are keen on using a UC system as it avoids the cliff edge of loss of benefits as soon as the claimant starts working.

“We are entering a new era in welfare policy, where the Scottish Government has significant new powers. In this era, it is not enough for the SNP and Labour to simply criticise – they can act, too.”