A NEW system for benefit payments has plunged 33 local families into debt - leaving them with a combined rent bill of £17,500.

Universal Credit is now being rolled out - which will see claimants receive their rent included as part of their monthly benefit rather than paid directly to the landlord in the form of Housing Benefit as it used to be.

But a council spokesman said: "In the first six months of 2015/16 we know of only 33 of our tenants who are in receipt of universal credit.

"However, of these 54 per cent have arrears exceeding £300 and in total £17,500 is owed by the 33 tenants."

The council is now having to allocate a £3 million emergency budget to cover the rent arrears it is anticipating through the Barnsley-wide adoption of the scheme.