UNIVERSAL Credit has pushed council house tenants into nearly £1.5 million of rent arrears in East Ayrshire.

Council tenant overdue rent stood at £1.484m between September 17 and October 14 this year.

About 7% of tenants had unpaid rent during that time – up from 5% last year. People are falling behind in their rent while they await their first Universal Credit payment.

The problem was revealed at the council’s Governance and Scrutiny Committee meeting this week.

Committee chair councillor Barry Douglas said: “We are seeing rent and council tax arrears going up. It is impacting the council.

“The council are trying to mitigate but we need support from the Scottish Government.”

The Labour and Co-operative Party councillor added: “It is a completely flawed policy. It is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

“It is not saving any money, it is costing more money.”

He said the council are trying to give people advice on setting up bank accounts, using the internet and coping with fuel and food poverty.

Rubbish Party councillor Sally Cogley said: “Universal Credit is something everybody is extremely concerned about. In East Ayrshire we have been anticipating the issues and made provision for it.”

The council has set up a project team to help residents transfer to the new system, which merges six benefits.

It warned there can be problems making a claim and receiving the first monthly payment.

There are fears some people may not even have a bank account to get the payment.

The council team offers advice on budgeting and work alongside the Department of Work and Pensions to help people get the payment.

The Trussell Trust figures show food bank use has jumped by 52% in the areas where Universal Credit has been introduced.