HELENSBURGH’S MSP has hit out at the Conservative government’s welfare reforms after new figures revealed that more than 400 people in the town had to seek advance payments to cope with the introduction of Universal Credit.

Statistics released by Job Centre Plus show that 410 advance payments have been made in the Helensburgh area since ‘full service’ operation of the new benefit began in Argyll and Bute in September 2018.

That amounts to a total of £130,000 paid out in the town as advances for new claims and benefit transfers – with an average advance value of £318.

A total of £700,000 has been paid out to benefit claimants in Jackie Baillie’s Dumbarton constituency since ‘full service’ was rolled out in the area.

READ MORE: Universal Credit 'has been a change for the better', says MSP Maurice Corry

The money is paid out in the form of loans to claimants during their five-week wait to receive their first Universal Credit payment.

The data also states that 20 ‘budgeting advances’ have been paid out to Helensburgh claimants by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) since September, with an average value of £363.

Universal Credit ‘full service’ began in neighbouring West Dunbartonshire in November, two months after Argyll and Bute.

More than 1,700 people in Helensburgh, Lomond, Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven have been transitioned over to the new system during that time.

Ms Baillie said: “It is heart-breaking to learn that £700,000 has had to be paid out in advance loan payments since Universal Credit full service was introduced in September and November last year.

“More and more people are being pushed into hardship because of the delays in the system, when they are already struggling – it is clear that this is not a system designed to help those who need it. It is a system that is causing people to choose between heating and eating.

“People who are on Universal Credit shouldn’t be forced into claiming advance payments which they need to pay back. This only pushes them into debt.

“The Tories must halt this shambolic system and take immediate steps to ensure those who need assistance get it.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh MSP's new warning over GP out of hours service

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, and more than two million people are now receiving support. With Universal Credit people get financial help if they’re unemployed, in low-paid employment or unable to work.

“People can get their first payment on day one of their claim as an advance and we continue to make improvements – in the past year the number of people being paid in full and on time has risen to 95 per cent.

“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, including flexibilities within Universal Credit and the power to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”