DELAYS in a decision over whether or not to continue rolling out a new benefits system already used by thousands of claimants in the North-East were last night criticised as a “callous” act.

MPs had been due to vote on moving millions of benefit claimants onto Universal Credit in the coming weeks. However, the ballot has been pushed back with Parliament instead being asked to vote on transferring just 10,000 people to the new system.

North-East council leaders and MPs have condemned the Government’s rollout of Universal Credit in the region, claiming that foodbanks were stretched to capacity over Christmas.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd yesterday played down reports of the sluggish implementation of the new system, which replaces Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit.

Ms Rudd cited a “test and learn approach” with Universal Credit, but added that the system is doing a “good job”, despite heavy criticism from opposition parties nationally.

Residents in Redcar and Cleveland were the last in the UK to be transferred to Universal Credit, with claimants forced to make the change over the festive period.

Redcar MP Anna Turley said: “This sudden change of heart beggars belief. The Government are finally facing up to the fact that their plans for Universal Credit have severe flaws yet they still pushed ahead with the rollout in Redcar and Cleveland just weeks before Christmas.

“Tory ministers have been well aware of the problems, not least because we have warned them repeatedly, but they pushed on regardless.

“Vulnerable people in our area are already feeling the pain of this reform and it’s only through extra support put in place by our local council and our foodbanks that some families have been able to get through Christmas.”

Three million benefits claimants are scheduled to migrate to Universal Credit in 2020.

Councillor Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, said: “As the leader of the council, I am incensed about the fact that Redcar and Cleveland residents were the last set of people to be transferred to Universal Credit just before Christmas – and transferred at a time when DWP ministers, aware of the fact it was unfit for purpose, were working on the plans to suspend it for a second look by Parliament.

“In all fairness, they should transfer back to their original benefits now.”