POOR families in Inverclyde could be pushed further into debt by new benefit rules.

New figures show that the majority of housing association tenants are now in arrears following controversial welfare changes enacted by the UK Government.

Social landlords have revealed that 1,115 of 1,498 tenants are behind with their rent.

The problem is so acute that social landlords have arranged for almost 30 per cent of those in arrears to have their housing costs paid directly.

Councillor Elizabeth Robertson, speaking at a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee, said: “These are huge numbers of people who are in arrears.

“This must cause so much distress to so many households and families."

During the meeting Cllr Robertson asked if there had been any evictions in the district due to the situation.

The local authority’s chief financial officer Alan Puckrin said it was difficult to answer because the council does not have any housing stock of its own.

Council leader Stephen McCabe subsequently asked officials to contact local landlords and gather this information before reporting back.

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Robertson said: “The real concern is what impact Universal Credit is having on families.

“Are people getting into arrears because of the time it’s taking to deliver money through the Universal Credit claim?

“If so this is causing additional stress on low-income families.”

There are over 4,000 UC claimants in Inverclyde at present and more than a third of them are working.

A total of 88 crisis grants were awarded to UC claimants in December alone.

Councillor McCabe says the statistics are worrying and show the damage caused by benefit changes.

He said: “The figures in the report are deeply concerning and show the very real impact the introduction of UC has had on local residents.

“The council and our partners in local registered social landlords and the third sector have been working hard to support residents through the financial difficulties they have faced as a consequence of moving onto UC.

“I am pleased that the government has finally recognised the hardship its policies have caused for many of the poorest people in our country and have made a number of changes to UC to address these.”