TEENAGERS in the Vale of Glamorgan are being rolled on to Universal Credit and a local charity has warned that the much-criticised benefit system could increase debt.

New data from the Department for Work and Pensions reveals that one in every 20 teenagers between 16 and 19 in the Vale of Glamorgan were on Universal Credit last year, according to the latest population estimates. Of those who received the benefit, 79 per cent were unemployed.

Universal Credit began in 2013 and has been gradually rolled out across the country. It was designed to simplify the benefits system for working age people by merging six separate benefits into one payment.

But features such as the 5-week wait, the 2-child limit and the benefits cap, as well as public spending cuts, have been associated with a rise in rent arrears, food bank usage and child poverty.

Local homelessness charity, Llamau, has expressed concern for young people who are being enrolled on the scheme.

Joe Payne, head of vale services and family mediation for Llamau, said: “Prior to the introduction of Universal Credit, a young person may have claimed Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance but this is no longer an option.

“Undoubtedly, the five week waiting time and a very low National Minimum Wage for people under 17 is going to cause young people untold hardship and in a lot of cases, spiralling debt”.

A Department for Work and Pension spokesman said the increase in 16 to 19-year olds claiming Universal Credit is ‘in line with expectations’ as it has been rolled out to every job centre.

Jane Hutt, AM for the Vale of Glamorgan, said: “I am concerned at the rise in the number of claimants, particularly young people, who need to access Universal Credit.

“Care leavers in particular are being disadvantaged by the changes. I do not believe the concerns that have been raised by claimants, by employers and by organisations advising and supporting people affected, including those who are in employment, have been addressed and I will continue to raise them on behalf of my constituents”.

The government has committed to ending a four-year benefit freeze in April this year, meaning millions of people will see their payments rise by the same rate as inflation.

Councillor Kathryn McCaffer, Vale of Glamorgan Council youth champion, said: “The Vale of Glamorgan Council is working with a range of partners to mitigate any adverse impacts and offer a variety of support to young people in financial difficulties. Those classed as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) can access the Inspire 2 Work programme, which provides financial help to pay for the likes of work clothes, training and travel costs.

“Vulnerable tenants are protected from debt through the direct payments system. Currently around 15 per cent of tenants have this system in place, which allows a portion of Universal Credit payments to be made directly to the council to cover rent.

“This year, the council has been able to secure over £120,000 of additional income for tenants by helping them secure backdated claims, ensuring the correct benefits are being received, assisting with appeals, and helping secure the best tariffs for utilities”.