A PILOT scheme which could leave more people at risk of benefits sanctions must be stopped, MSPs say.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to move recipients of old-style working tax credits and child tax credits onto Universal Credit in a local trial scheme in Harrogate, England.

The aim is to roll this out across the UK once the 10,000-person pilot is complete.

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But Holyrood’s Social Security Committee says not enough is known about the likely impact the change will have on those affected and the switch – which could see claimants become subject to sanctions – must stop before it starts.

The Scottish Parliament committee first raised concerns about the pilot with the DWP in January as it reported on its probe into work, welfare and poverty.

However, the DWP did not respond and the launch is scheduled to go ahead despite the concerns.

Today committee convener Bob Doris, of the SNP, said: “We are deeply concerned that despite raising this issue as part of the committee’s In-Work Poverty Inquiry with the DWP in January, and the UK Government’s failure to appear at our committee to give evidence, they have carried on with plans for implementation regardless.”

The Maryhill and Springburn MSP went on: “This movement represents a huge cultural shift and we do not believe it is right to sanction the working poor, effectively punishing people for going to their work.

“The DWP has said they are currently taking a ‘light touch’ approach to in-work conditionality or sanctions but there is little confidence that when the system rolls out more widely that low-paid and part-time workers won’t suffer as a result.”

And Doris concluded: “The rollout of Universal Credit has been littered with mistakes and it is vital that this latest pilot is put on hold to ensure that there is no negative impact upon claimants who rely on this money.”

Speaking at the time of the announcement of the pilot in March, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said it would not cause “hassle” to welfare recipients, but would benefit the public purse.

The DWP has long argued that Universal Credit helps people into work, despite scathing reports from charities like the Trussell Trust, which links it to increased food bank use, and even the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

The senior Cabinet member stated: “Moving people from the old and outdated benefits system to Universal Credit is a positive and important moment.

“Once on Universal Credit people will benefit from a more personal service and can expect to receive up to six benefits combined into one, making it easier for them to manage their money.

“But the switch needs to be done carefully which is why we are taking a step-by-step approach to this, starting in Harrogate.

“I want to be sure that the switch to Universal Credit is a hassle-free process for claimants and everyone receives the personalised service they deserve.”