SOCIAL Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville issued a stark welfare warning yesterday as new Universal Credit claimants could face Christmas without cash.

The UK Government system, aimed at reducing costs and encouraging more people into work, has completed its long-delayed rollout across Scotland.

Delivered in arrears, it provides monthly payments of income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and more in one lump sum.

But those moving onto the payments face a minimum five week delay for funds – meaning anyone making a claim this week will have to wait until January to receive anything.

Somerville said: “Christmas is a time of additional expense for most people but it’s particularly hard for families with little money to begin with. It is therefore unacceptable that anyone making a claim for Universal Credit from last week will not see their money until after Christmas.

“This is an appalling situation for many across Scotland and why we have repeatedly called for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit.

“The minimum five week wait for a first payment is just one of the many problems with Universal Credit, the rollout of which has led to sharp rises in the use of food banks and rent arrears.

“While the DWP do offer advance payments, this needs to be paid back from future payments, locking families in to further debt at the start of a new year.”

Universal Credit is blamed by the Trussell Trust foodbank network for driving up the number of people requiring emergency provisions.

Last month its Scottish head, Laura Ferguson, told The National that the third sector “can’t continue to pick up the pieces” after demand for food aid rose 15% year-on-year between April and September, when almost 90,000 packs were distributed.

Three Glasgow job centres – those in Castlemilk, Drumchapel and Shettleston – were the last in Scotland to introduce Universal Credit.

One of the first areas to trial the system was Inverness, where local MP Drew Hendry described it as a “disaster” and Highland Council reported spiralling rent arrears.

However, while Universal Credit now covers all Scottish regions, it does not yet cover all welfare claimants.

Though all new claimants will go on to Universal Credit from the outset, estimates suggest it will take another five years before all of those already in receipt of “legacy” benefits – including jobseekers’ allowance and working tax credit – are transferred on to the system.

Somerville, who leads new welfare agency Social Security Scotland, said: “We are spending significant amounts to mitigate the worst effects of UK Government cuts and support those on low incomes – £125 million this year alone.

“The UK Government must now make the fundamental changes needed to make Universal Credit fit for purpose before the managed migration of people on legacy benefits begins next summer.”

The DWP said Universal Credit replaces “an outdated, complicated system that often trapped people out of work”.

A spokesperson said: “We have listened to concerns about universal credit delivery and funding, and in response announced a £4.5 billion cash boost.

“This includes increasing the amount people can earn on universal credit by £1000 before their payment begins to reduce, and making sure people do not lose out as they move onto the new benefit.”