A FIVE-week wait for benefit payments could push St Helens residents into rent arrears, a leading union has said.
Concerns have been voiced that new job-seekers are being adversely affected under Universal Credit (UC), launched in the borough last month.
Union TUC said an average of 1,035 St Helens residents a month are starting job-seekers allowance claims and could be affected.
UC, the flagship scheme of the government’s welfare reform programme, is a monthly payout combining several existing benefit payments.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said waits for benefit payments were commonplace and UC was making the system fairer and more efficient.
TUC regional secretary Lynn Collins said: “We know workers in the North West have suffered cuts in real earnings over the last five years.
“Help should be there when it is needed, but instead people will be left to rely on food banks and pay day loans to see them through and wait.
“Welfare reform is one thing but the five week wait is a collective punishment for anyone who loses their job.
“People need to focus on finding new work, instead of being stressed-out about how they will pay the rent, feed the kids and keep the heating on.”
Only a fraction of St Helens claimants are currently part of the Universal Credit system, which is being rolled out in stages across the region.
It is only available to single claimants but could be available to couples and families later in the year.
A spokesman for the DWP said: “Universal Credit is a vital reform that will simplify the benefits system and make work pay. The seven-day waiting period for benefits is not limited to Universal Credit but will apply to out-of-work benefits under the current system too. People can apply for an advanced benefit payment if needed.
“Paying benefits monthly is an important part of Universal Credit because it replicates the world of work and makes the transition to employment much smoother. We have matched this with increased budgeting support.
“Many people find a job quickly, and people who have recently become unemployed have money from their final pay packet to help make ends meet.”