That is the opinion of East Renfrewshire Citizen’s Advice Bureau’s (ERCAB) welfare officer Jim Haggerty, who spends his working hours dealing with hard-up residents struggling with their benefits.

Speaking to The News after calls were made to delay the roll-out of the controversial Universal Credit scheme, Jim has said that many households face a significant drop in their monthly income, and in some situations residents could find themselves without any new income for up to a month.

An open letter backed by almost 60 organisations across Scotland was printed in January that called on the UK Government to immediately suspend the roll-out of Universal Credit in Scotland, saying it puts vulnerable people at risk.

The Trussel Trust, which operates foodbanks in the area, Age Scotland, Business for Scotland and the Church of Scotland are just some of the 57 organisations who signed the open letter addressed to Ian Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions.

The letter calls for the scheme to be held back to allow new powers for the Scottish Government on welfare to be finalised.

Now Jim Haggerty has set out the reasons why locals could be affected, and how ERCAB will be involved in helping residents caught in the sweeping changes.

He said: “The introduction of Universal Credit will be accompanied by the abolition of the severe disability premium – worth £59.50 a week. The disabled child and severely disabled child elements of Child Tax Credit are replaced with additional amounts for a disabled child but the amounts are lower.

“The benefit will drop from £57 a week under Child Tax Credit, to £28 under Disability Additions, affecting significant numbers of children within the East Renfrewshire area. Also severely disabled adults who do not have carer could receive between £28 & £58 less per week.” Jim also raised the issue of claimants only being able to register online, alienating members of the community who do not have the means or know-how to access the government’s online forms.

And those who struggle must phone for help on a premium line.

Jim continued: “There are no paper application forms and Universal Credit applications are made online. However many people have never used the internet or do not have access to broadband. Making Universal Credit applications online-only when people do not have access to a computer or cannot use one, only means that when people have problems they will rely on help via the telephone.

“The Universal Credit helpline is an 0845 number costing up to 10p a minute from a landline and 41p a minute from a mobile. The experience of advisers is that many of these call to DWP call centres can last 20 to 30 minutes therefore claimants using their own phone could incur considerable charges.” East Renfrewshire CAB has established the HERO project (Helping East Renfrewshire Online) in response to the anticipated problems in managing benefits online.

Currently they are assisting clients with applying for benefits and jobsearching online. However they are also preparing for the challenges that Universal Credit will bring when rolled out to this area.

One of the biggest concerns for Jim and the ERCAB staff is that changing circumstances could not be taken into account as Universal Credit is calculated on the basis of the household’s situation on the day of the assessment and the next calculation is done on the same day the following month.

Jim used an example to show how this could affect a family expecting a new child, saying: “A woman may be pregnant and the child may be born the day after the day of the assessment. The Universal Credit calculation will not take account of the fact that there is a new child until the next assessment date.

“Universal Credit is a monthly payment paid in arrears and there is no entitlement for under a month. People do not realise when they come off Universal Credit they will not get a payment for the uncompleted month and that includes the housing element. Someone may be 25 days into the next monthly period for Universal Credit when they take a job that takes them off Universal Credit. They will get nothing for those last 25 days and may not be able to pay their rent.” And East Renfrewshire Citizen’s Advice has seen such an increase in the amount of footfall due to welfare reforms that referrals to the foodbank have increased, and a backlog of cases has built up, preventing some residents from seeing their full entitlement of benefits.

“There has been significant footfall into the bureau by clients who require assistance with requesting reconsideration revisions, supersessions and representation at appeals due to changes in the benefit system, “ Jim added. “Furthermore many are suffering from the impact of the sanctions regime which has led to an increase in referrals to the foodbank.” “The backlog in work capability assessments, PIP assessments and subsequent delays has also meant that many claimants are having to exist on a lower rate of benefit than to which they are entitled. Furthermore DWP call centre advisers often lack familiarity with the changes in the system and give clients wrong advice.

“These particular difficulties are clearly related to the problem in implementing system changes therefore Scottish claimants will undoubtedly suffer if having to migrate to one system and then another potentially very different system implemented.”