A WOMAN who found herself with £1,200 in rent arrears had to wait seven weeks for her Universal Credit claim to be processed.

Hazel Brown, 56, from Carlisle, said she struggled with the application and ended up having to borrow money to buy food and essentials.

It was only with support from landlord Riverside that she managed to successfully complete her benefits claim, then had to wait for payment.

The social housing group says cases like Hazel's are all too common - with many tenants having to turn to foodbanks while waiting for Universal Credit payments.

Riverside Group has joined the Trussell’s Trust’s #5WeeksTooLong campaign, calling for an end to the five-week wait for initial Universal Credit payments.

It follows an in-depth survey of residents, which revealed that two claimants in five have had to rely on foodbanks to feed themselves and their family after moving on to the new six-in-one benefit.

In Hazel's case, her problems started when she moved back to her home city of Carlisle to be closer to her sister.

Although she had a bank account, email address and internet access, she still struggled with the application process and said she found the experience daunting.

"At the time I wasn’t in a good place with my mental health. I couldn’t cope with the process. I was worried about falling behind with my rent. I was frightened and confused," she said.

Hazel was referred to Riverside’s Money Advice Team, but by this time she was £1,200 in arrears. Her claim then took seven weeks to process, meaning she had to ask to borrow money from family.

She added: “We need to make the process quicker. People should not have to wait weeks and deal with the uncertainty of not knowing. I don’t think the Government understand that people do not have savings to fall back on. It made me scared I that I could lose my home.”

Riverside, which is one of Britain’s largest social housing providers and has homes across the area, said arrears among tenants claiming Universal Credit are more than three-and-a-half times higher than those who are not, averaging £600 each.

It is therefore calling on the Government to reform the system, to reduce the number of tenants and families falling into hardship.

Hugh Owen, director of strategy at Riverside, said: “Our findings clearly show that our tenants are experiencing increased financial difficulty because of the wait for Universal Credit. The five week wait means that many people are going without food or heating and are getting into debt to cover their bills."

The Government insists five-week waits for Universal Credit are not typical. It says the system is simpler and many families are better off.