THE new Universal Credit set to simplify the benefit system is pushing claimants into debt and into the clutches of loansharks, warns a Halton charity.

People are struggling to survive after being left penniless waiting for more than six weeks for their first payment.

Citizens Advice Halton is urging the government to take urgent action to fix the problems.

Since Universal Credit was introduced in Halton the charity has already helped 710 people with 1,160 problems with the benefit.

By 2022 Universal Credit will affect more than 15,500 households across Halton.

Hitesh Patel, chief executive of Citizens Advice Halton said: “The principles behind Universal Credit are sound but a mix of flaws in how the benefit was designed and problems with how it is being delivered is leaving many people’s finances in tatters.

“We’re already helping many people across Halton who are having problems.”

One man turned to the charity for help after his application was delayed for more than 10 weeks.

He had no money, fell behind with his rent and was so desperate he resorted to borrowing from illegal money lenders. The whole ordeal had a massive negative impact on his mental health and wellbeing.

Mr Patel added: “If the government doesn’t fix significant problems with Universal Credit many families across Halton may be put at financial risk, which can in turn put huge pressure on other services such as health, housing and social care.”

The rollout of Universal Credit is set to speed up significantly in October.

Citizens Advice Halton is calling on ministers to fix key problems before thousands more people are brought into the system.

The charity has compiled a report with a range of recommendations.

Suggestions include removing the seven waiting days at the start of the claim and ensure everyone can get an advance payment while they wait.

Introducing an online system for people to book their initial Jobcentre appointment instead of using a helpline, which should be free.

Allow people to adjust to Universal Credit by offering options in how the benefit is paid.

A comprehensive support package should be in place to ensure people get advice to manage their money and deal with any complications in the application process.

Anyone experiencing debt problems can contact Citizens Advice Halton on 0344 477 2121.