UNIVERSAL Credit is causing suffering to people in Wrexham, it has been claimed.

Politicians have been told that the single payment to replace six old benefits has led to an increase in rent arrears owed by council tenants of more than £255,000.

There are currently 1,040 people in receipt of Universal Credit facing a backlog in payments totalling around £632,000 at an average of £608 per household.

It compares to an average of £241 for people in the county who are still on the old system.

Unlike previous payments, Universal Credit is paid in arrears and the housing aspect goes directly to residents rather than landlords, which Wrexham Council officers said was making it challenging to collect rent.

Cllr David Griffiths (Ind), lead member for housing, told a meeting of the authority’s homes and environment scrutiny committee: “It is very clear that Universal Credit has had a significant impact on people in Wrexham, although due to the hard work of staff this is as not as bad as elsewhere.

“Officers have been proactive in assisting people to make claims, give budgeting advice and ensure where rent arrears exist that alternative payments are in place.

“The real sufferers in this are the people in receipt of Universal Credit that aren’t getting the support they need.

“We are where we are and we have to make the best of this for our tenants and our council.”

The new system was introduced for most areas of Wrexham in October 2017.

A similar report in neighbouring Flintshire, which was the pilot area for the new system in Wales, shows the council is facing £2.2m in arrears.

Cllr Carrier Harper (Plaid), who represents the Queensway area of Caia Park, criticised the roll out of Universal Credit by the UK Government.

She said: “We all know we’ve got tenants who are always going to struggle with budgeting and the transfer over to Universal Credit.

“You do struggle to understand the rationale for Universal Credit when you see reports saying it’s going to cost more than the old system and reports saying more people are turning to foodbanks.

“The way it’s been rolled out is absolutely incompetent.”

Cllr Alan Edwards (Ind) said he believed whoever came up with the system should be “sent back to the planet they came from”.

It came as councillors were told there would be a significant impact on arrears in 2019 because of there being an additional week in the year, where as Universal Credit is based on 52 weeks’ worth of payments.

Concerns were also raised about the withdrawal of funding for the local authority to provide advice services, which will now go to Citizens Advice instead.

Matthew Evans, Wrexham Council’s benefit manager, said: “For staff, Universal Credit has been challenging in terms of the fact it’s actually a changing feast.

“Each and every customer is different. They’ve got different circumstances.

“We don’t know yet how the service will work from April, but putting it in context we’re paying for two members of staff to be in the Job Centre Plus to provide digital support.

“We won’t have the funding for that next year so potentially those members of staff won’t be there.

“The adequacy of the funding is there, but in terms of whether it will work we don’t know enough to comment.”

Committee members voted in favour of lobbying the Government over the 53 week issue and requested for a representative from the Department for Work and Pensions to attend a future meeting.

They will receive a further update on the impact of Universal Credit in six months’ time.