OVERWHELMING support has been offered to the first man in Inverness to claim universal credit, after he said he would have to make himself bankrupt.
Les Ross has been left in poverty under the new benefits system and last week we reported how he had been left with just 24p in his bank and did not know where his next meal would come from.
Since our article the 51-year-old has been inundated with offers of support, including food donations and even a free grooming session for his border collie, Cass.
A new pair of boots have also been donated after we reported that Mr Ross had been stuffing his with paper to keep his feet dry.
"I’ve been absolutely inundated, it’s so overwhelming," he said.
"I came home one day to two bags of shopping at my back door, another one was given to me while I was out walking the dog.
"I’ve had new boots given to me and one woman has even offered a free shampoo and groom for Cass. Everyone has been so kind."
Mr Ross said he has been given so much food that he has donated some to his local food bank in Hilton, which he regularly uses himself.
"I’ve been given more than I need and I want to spread some of that kindness to other people who have the same problems as me," he said.
Retired local businessman Alastair Dowling, who owns Cairngorm Windows, offered to take Mr Ross to Tesco and "fill a trolley", while Inverness-based C&P Recruitment offered to help him to find a job.
Another group from Edinburgh have offered to donate money after seeing Mr Ross’s story online.
"People have been reaching out to help me because I put myself out there in public but there are so many people out there who are scared to do that but are just as hungry and in need of help as I am," he said. "When I was in donating the food I saw a young couple with a pram, they shouldn’t have to use food banks."
Mr Ross went on to universal credit – which replaces six benefits with a single payment – when he moved back to Inverness from Aviemore in 2013, just as a trial of the new system started in the city.
He quickly racked up rent arrears because his payments were frozen and was initially only on benefits for a short time before getting a job in Tesco. A breakdown a year ago, though, saw him having to go back on to universal credit.
Mr Ross has offered to volunteer in the Hilton food bank but this may be short-lived as he has also been approached about a possible job as a result of our story.
For the moment though he is continuing with the process of making himself bankrupt saying he still has "constant problems" with payments and debt piling up.
"I’m just so grateful to everyone who wants to help and I’ll spread it round so other people get the benefit of it, especially vulnerable people who haven’t had the support I have and are unable to speak up," he said.
"I’m not doing this just for me, I’m doing it to be a voice for those people.
"Hopefully if we speak up and stand united we might be able to do something about it."
Since it was first trialled in Inverness in 2013 universal credit has been blamed for pushing people into poverty due to a minimum six-week wait for payments, not paying the proper amount or freezing benefits every time a change of circumstances in reported. It was rolled out Highland-wide in July and Highland Council is now owed £1.9 million in unpaid rent, with eight out of 10 tenants on universal credit in arrears.
The Department of Work and Pensions insists that universal credit helps get people back into work and that most claimants are "comfortably managing" their budgets.