A RECORD numbers of families in Malmesbury are struggling with increasing debt.

Malmesbury charity Heals say they have been overwhelmed with desperate cases of people facing debts in the last year.

It held its largest ever Christmas Community Lunch last month for those in need, and Malmesbury Foodbank had its largest distribution of Christmas boxes.

On a normal basis, Heals says they work with one or two families that have debt problems, but this year its is working with seven families.

Gavin Grant is the chairman of the trustees of Heals, and he says he has never see debt problems in the town this bad.

He said: “We have been overwhelmed with desperate cases of people facing vast debts, the foodbank having their largest distribution of Christmas boxes and our largest ever Christmas Community lunch.

“Such is the scale of need for advice from Heals that I am recommending to my fellow trustees the unprecedented decision in our six years of operation, not to take on any new service users this month.

“Almost all of this work relates to families facing growing levels of debt compounded by the Christmas bills‎ and winter fuel bills starting to arrive through their letter boxes.

"I have already had to intervene to stop bailiffs arriving.

“It really is a serious state of affairs.”

Recently the government announced the decision to delay the roll out of Universal Credit across the country.

Mr Grant, who represents Malmesbury on Wiltshire County Council, is struggling to understand why more evidence needs to be gathered first, having seen the harsh impacts the scheme is having on families in north Wiltshire.

“Universal Credits is really good for families with a regular outcome and a steady income,” he explained.

“It is a year round presence and not just at Christmas.

“The impact of the five to six week delays before it is paid is now well known‎.

“Less understood is how it hits those with low incomes who have irregular work, are on zero hours contracts or are self employed.

“Here the fluctuations in payments are in arrears.

“This feature, plus the payment being made monthly, hits those who struggle to make ends meet, have no savings, are not computer savvy or good financial managers.

“As a result Heals has a record level of families we are supporting in trying to renegotiate their growing debts and find cash for their children’s winter shoes and coats or even put food on the table and pay their heating bills.

“The principle of Universal Credit as a simplified, universal and single social security payment is a good one.

“The cuts to its funding and method of operation are not.

“They are creating real hardship and harm.

“There is no need for more evidence, Universal Credit needs fundamental change.

“This should be the Government’s new year resolution.”

A spokesperson for the Departments for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, and it’s working for the vast majority of people.

"Budgeting support is in place for anyone who needs extra help managing their money, and advance payments are available from day one of a Universal Credit claim.”