UNIVERSAL CREDIT continues to have a significant impact on rent arrears at Clackmannanshire Council.

Elected members joined forces to condemn the benefits policy last Thursday, September 10, when it was revealed that 82 per cent of council tenants receiving Universal Credit are in arrears.

Together, they were in a combined debt of just under £700,000 at the end of 2019-20.

Cllr Donald Balsillie, deputy council leader, said: "That does question that particular system, whether it's working for us or the people receiving it."

Figures from the council showed that by the end of 2019-20, 1,251 tenants in receipt of Universal Credit were in arrears.

There were only around 611 in 2017-18, before more people were moved to the system, which seeks to roll multiple benefits into one payment.

However, the percentage of claimants in arrears has slightly decreased from 88 per cent of tenants receiving Universal Credit falling behind two years ago.

The average debt per case has also lowered in the same time frame, from £747 to £557.

However, with more people in debt, the total figure went from around £456,000 in 2017-18 to just under £700,000 more recently.

Council leader Ellen Forson said: "I'm probably going to be a lot more blunt than Donald was about Universal Credit.

"I think it's absolutely horrendous that 82 per cent of our tenants who claim Universal Credit are in arrears.

"That's through no fault of their own, it's just the way the system is set up; they need to wait five weeks to get any money so they are going to run five weeks of arrears."

She added: "Donald said the system might not be working – it definitely is not working."

The council leader is looking to take the issue further via the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) in a bid to see the bigger picture across the country and raise it with Westminster.

She also raised concerns that more people have gone onto Universal Credit during the pandemic.

Indeed, recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows 2,225 people were claiming out-of-work benefits in Clackmannanshire as of July 9, compared to just 1,365 in early March.

Cllr Dave Clark, leader of the Labour Group, said: "Both Donald and Ellen, Ellen in particular, made the point very loquaciously about the plight of people on Universal Credit.

"I think it's a scandal and personally I would call on our colleagues in the Conservatives to apologise to those tenants who are going to have to pay more rent because these people in poverty can't pay theirs.

"The consequences of Universal Credit is not only a tragedy for those who are on it, it rolls into the lives of other people."

No other councillors entered the debate.