THOUSANDS of families face hardship and debt when the £20 Universal Credit top up is scrapped, a charity claims.

Citizens Advice Cheshire West believes one in seven working age people in Cheshire West and Chester will be hit.

The £20 weekly benefit is a vital lifeline, say campaigners, and has supported many people who were already struggling before the pandemic and those hit by Covid job losses.

Staff and volunteers at the local charity have already helped 2,784 people with Universal Credit since March last year.

They are urging the government to save the benefit due to be axed on October 6.

Linda Crosbie, senior help to claim adviser, said: “That extra money makes the difference between choosing to put the heating on or eating a decent meal for the people we support.

"Many have lost jobs through no fault of their own and are still struggling to find work.

"The increase of £20 a week is absolutely essential for them to budget each month.”

The charity warns cutting the benefit as energy bills rise and the weather gets colder will see many families struggle to afford their essential costs.

It fears a drop in income could be particularly difficult for new benefits claimants who may be unaware of the looming cut.

Jason Bishop, chief executive of Citizens Advice Cheshire West, said: “Every day our staff and volunteers see the difference the increase to Universal Credit has made to families.

"It’s what has helped them keep their heads above water.

“Without that extra money, we fear we’d see more people coming to us in debt, unable to pay their bills or turning to food banks because they can’t afford the essentials.

“As we look to rebuild from Covid, the government must invest in the benefits system and keep this vital lifeline.”