THE introduction of Universal Credit has been “callous” and “inhumane” and has pushed people into financial crisis, campaigners say.

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group (STCG), which was formed to oppose the council’s plans to sell off its housing stock, issued the damning verdict amid fierce criticism of the way in which Universal Credit has been rolled out.

Earlier this week, Conservative MP Heidi Allen was moved to tears after listening to a member of the opposition describe how the new system left one of his constituents contemplating suicide.

In 2011, when Universal Credit was being drafted, a minimum wait of 42 days was envisioned for a first payment to claimants when they moved to the new system, but in many cases it can be up to 60 days, leaving people without an income for more than six weeks.

In light of this, STCG found that, in Swindon, 702 council tenants out of 1,053 on Universal Credit have average rent arrears of £812.53.

They also found that 2,650 tenant households had an average arrears of £464.66, resulting in a total arrears of £1,231,349.

The roll out of Universal Credit, the group claims, is largely responsible for the rise in rent arrears.

STCG secretary Martin Wicks said: “It is callous and inhumane to push people into a financial crisis because of the introduction of a new system. These claimants are simply transferring from one benefit to another.

“STCG believes that Universal Credit claimants who are transferring should cease to be treated as new claimants. This would ensure that they won't fall into rent arrears and that anybody who qualifies for free prescriptions would be able to continue doing so.”

Martin has called on politicians to address the problems and to ensure that those waiting for Universal Credit still receive their existing benefits right up until the point at which their new payments begin.

He said: “People should not be victims of the introduction of a new system. Their existing benefits should be paid until the UC claim is processed and their UC payment begins. If any adjustments need to be made they can be made when the UC payments have begun.”

But North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson stood by the government’s record on Universal Credit.

He said: “Universal Credit has cross-party support because it simplifies the complex benefits system to make sure nobody ever misses out on the vital support available.

“For the first time individual, tailored support is offered to help find work, free childcare and training.

“UC has helped deliver record employment with 600,000 fewer workless households. £1.7bn future improvements were announced in the Budget to speed up support, including with housing benefit. This was welcomed by all.”