FAMILIES and individuals have been offered important advice as Universal Credit (UC) comes into operation.

It merges and replaces six benefits, including two which are income-based — Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.

The others are Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit, all absorbed by UC, which is administered by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Head of Finance at East Ayrshire Council, Craig McArthur, said: “One of the biggest changes is that Universal Credit will be paid monthly in arrears to one nominated bank account.

“Claimants will also be responsible for paying rent directly to their landlord, whether they are a council tenant, in social housing, or in a private tenancy.

“These are big changes and many people in Cumnock and Doon Valley might be worried about managing their money and living on a monthly benefit.”

However, the system is slightly different in Scotland, than in the rest of the UK, with an option called Scottish Flexibility introduced by Holyrood.

Recipients can opt to have benefits paid every two weeks and also have the housing element paid direct to landlords - whether they are in council housing, social housing, or a private tenant.

Councillor Elena Whitham, cabinet member for housing and communities, said: “Having the option of being paid UC twice a month and the UC housing element being paid directly to landlords will help many claimants.

“It helps people deal more practically with the significant changes of the UC system, offering more flexibility and choice when it comes to managing household budgets and help remove the anxiety of ensuring rent is paid on time.”

Applications for Scottish Flexibility are approved by the DWP, unless they think your request is unreasonable, in which case they must tell you the reasons for their decision.

If you are refused a Scottish Flexibility, you can’t appeal against this.

Mr McArthur added: “The council has a range of resources available to assist, including a web page with guidance on who to contact and how to manage your money, plus a handy leaflet showing which council offices and services can help direct you to the best support.

“If you are worried, or struggling to cope with the changes, the most important thing to do is ask for help — you don’t have to go it alone, so please, do get in touch.”