UNIVERSAL Credit has greatly increased rent arrears and immediate action is needed to tackle the issue, according to MSPs.

A report from Holyrood’s Social Security Committee said it was “alarmed” by the evidence on rising arrears. The committee launched an inquiry earlier this year to explore how social security support for housing costs has been impacted by welfare reform, with a particular focus on the local housing allowance and Universal Credit (UC).

A submission by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said to the committee that in the last 18 months, their clients’ rent arrears issues were mostly caused by moving on to UC. The committee noted evidence from the CAB network, and from other stakeholders, which suggested rent arrears are more common among tenants receiving UC. Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) figures showed mainstream rent arrears for councils (East Lothian, Highland, East Dunbartonshire, and Midlothian) increased by a total of 26% in the two years from March 31, 2016.

Cosla said this could not be attributed solely to UC but, generally, there are sharp increases when an area goes on to the full service.

Committee convener and SNP MSP Bob Doris said: “The rapid increase in rent arrears since the introduction of Universal Credit is unacceptable. We want to see the housing element of Universal Credit paid directly to landlords and the DWP must review the minimum five-week wait for new UC claimants.”