INVERNESS’S MP is continuing his fight to see Highland Council reimbursed for the cost of rolling out the “disastrous” Universal Credit system.
Last October Drew Hendry revealed how it had cost the council £669,719 to administer the new benefits system between 2016 and 2018, but it only received £244,962 from Westminster to do so, leaving a shortfall of £424,747.
Data also shows that more than half of the council’s £2.5 million rent arrears are directly attributable to Universal Credit after Inverness was chosen as the only place in Scotland to trial the system.
Mr Hendry is now stepping up the pressure on Westminster after meeting employment minister Alok Sharma to demand the return of the money he says taxpayers are owed.
“Council tax payers across the Highlands have been paying the cost of implementing the UK government’s disastrous Universal Credit project and it is not on,” he said.
“Day in, day out, Highland Council staff have to deal with a system littered with inefficiencies and a host of process failures – costing not only more time for officers but lots more money from the council’s budget”.
“In addition to meeting administration costs, Highland Council is also having to burden the cost of rent arrears which have shot through the roof because of the length of time people and landlords have to wait for payments. With nearly 14,000 people across the Highlands still to be transferred over to Universal Credit, this bill is going to continue to rise.
“The case for compensating Highland Council is clear cut and I was encouraged by the minister’s willingness to take on board our concerns.
“He has agreed to review the information I gave to him detailing the costs incurred and we will meet again over the coming weeks.”
Highland Council’s budget leader, Councillor Alister Mackinnon, welcomed Mr Hendry’s intervention.
“Certainly any help in recovering the funds would be greatly appreciated – they will definitely not go to waste,” he said.