THE introduction of Universal Credit has led to an increase in the levels of homelessness in Wrexham, it has been claimed.

Under the UK government scheme, those in receipt of six old benefits now receive a single payment, which is given in arrears.

It was introduced to simplify the benefits system, but it has been claimed it is forcing an increasing number of people into debt.

Politicians have previously been told it has led to a rise in rent arrears owed to Wrexham Council of more than £255,000. Council leader Mark Pritchard has now said he also believes it is impacting on the number of homeless people in the county.

His comments were made as the authority prepares to launch a new strategy to help people stay off the streets.

Cllr Pritchard said: “We’ve brought it back down to a local level and our numbers on rough sleepers have dropped.

“What I would say, and I’ve said this a long time ago, is the direct payments to individuals are wrong and it needs to be reviewed and looked at at a higher level than us.

“When you have somebody with alcohol, drug or gambling addictions and their money comes to them directly, sometimes they spend it on the wrong things and it’s a personal choice.

“You can look back now and say we were right, and we made it clear at the time, but it’s evidence based now.

“I’m not sure it would cure homelessness altogether, but the percentage of homeless would drop on the back of that.”

Wrexham is preparing to launch a homeless strategy for the first time, as a result of the introduction of the Housing Wales Act 2014.

It requires the council to carry out a review of homelessness in the area and develop a strategy based on the findings.

All six local authorities in North Wales have agreed to create an overarching regional strategy.

However, Cllr David Griffiths, lead member for housing said he felt a local plan was also needed given the issues faced by homeless people in the area.

He said: “We have consulted with a range of partner agencies and service users during the review and identified gaps in service provision for homeless people or those threatened with homelessness and the strategy will try to address these gaps.

“We all know that Universal Credit is a mess, but the people who are suffering are the people who are in receipt of that.

“In Wrexham, where we can we have worked for the payment to come directly to Wrexham Council.

“If they work with us we have the patience of Job, but it’s the only way we can do it.”

Councillors will be asked to approve the strategy at a meeting on Tuesday.