MORE THAN half of Universal Credit claimants living in Caerphilly county borough are struggling with rent payments, it has been revealed.

Up to 400 council tenants have applied for the new benefits system since it was introduced into the area in September.

But chief housing officer Shaun Couzens told senior councillors on Wednesday that “over 50 per cent” were already in rent arrears.

“It’s a sad reflection and you can see [Universal Credit] is having an impact straight away,” said Mr Couzens.

The statistic, described by council leader David Poole as “shocking”, was shared during a cabinet meeting where members pledged their support to a regional homelessness strategy.

Improved support to manage and mitigate against the impacts of Universal Credit is one of several action points included within the four-year plan.

Deputy leader Sean Morgan asked how the council was encouraging landlords to take on homeless tenants given that some accommodation is unavailable to those on benefits.

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Mr Couzens said the authority works positively with landlords but that Universal Credit was proving to be a “caveat” within this relationship.

“It has brought some problems with some claimants experiencing delays with getting their money,” he added.

“We’re at the early stages but we’re a bit concerned that may have an impact on landlords’ willingness to take tenants on.”

Concerns had previously been raised about council staff already facing increased workloads relating to Universal Credit and the need to help claimants complete the online-only applications.

READ MORE: Caerphilly council staff facing 'significant' workloads during Universal Credit rollout

A report from November said the council had received six new claims per day. A spokeswoman said they were now dealing between five and eight claims on average per day but there had been “no significant increase”.

The meeting also heard that the “worrying trend” of homelessness was “going in the wrong direction”, with the number of Caerphilly households requesting homelessness assistance rising by nearly 25 per cent between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Mr Couzens said a lack of affordable housing and increased private rents for single person accommodation – a large proportion of households seeking help – were some reasons behind the increase.

Care leavers in Caerphilly are no longer required to pay council tax but Councillor Carl Cuss, cabinet member for social care and wellbeing, said some were being burdened with extra costs when seeking supported accommodation.

Cllr Cuss said: “The rent for supported accommodation is more than other properties in the borough, and the housing benefit doesn’t cover the full amount of this.”

Mr Couzens said both the council and Welsh Government were aware of the issue.