LABOUR MPs will today call a House of Commons vote to demand the controversial roll out of Universal Credit is paused – as North-East food banks prepare to meet an expected increase in demand.

The move comes as the Government's flagship benefit reform, first piloted in Newcastle and Hartlepool, is rolled out this week in east Durham, one of the country's most deprived areas.

Labour is calling on ministers to “pause and fix” the benefit amid reports up to 25 Tories may be willing to support them following reports claimants are waiting six weeks for any money and getting into debt.

Prime Minister Theresa May was due to hold talks with the would-be Conservative rebels in an effort to stave off an embarrassing revolt.

Easington's Labour MP Grahame Morris said: "We are running into Christmas where people are looking at the choice between heating and eating.

"We have got to make sure that the universal credit system is functioning properly.

"Six benefits rolled into one has far reaching implications for people who are in work, as well as people on other types of benefits."

He said there were also fears over the "digital by default" aspect, requiring claimants to keep their application up to date on a daily basis.

"Not everyone has access to IT facilities or is conversant with IT systems," he said. "If they don't keep their application up to date they risk being sanctioned and having benefits suspended.

"I have met with managers of the Department of Works and Pensions in Peterlee, who assure me they have learned from roll-outs in adjacent areas.

"But given the number of people who are presenting to me in desperate circumstances seeking referrals to foodbanks I think we need to ensure the system is absolutely robust."

Universal Credit combines a number of benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits into a single payment.

Government figures showed 23 per cent of new claimants don't get their first full payment within six weeks, linked to a rise in rent arrears and debt.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has insisted the roll-out of Universal Credit will continue, with the system tweaked so claimants are offered advance payments upfront.

But after a dozen Tory MPs wrote to him uging him to pause the overhaul ahead of the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, Labour will hope to win a symbolic victory in an opposition day vote today.

Mr Morris said: "Claimants are paid in arrears. Many people are just living hand to mouth. They don’t have £100 pounds in savings.

"How on earth will they last six weeks without any benefit payments to buy food and pay their rent."

Laura Pidcok, MP for North West Durham, said: “It’s vital that the Government listen not just to us, the opposition Labour Party, on Universal Credit, but the many advice and support agencies who have warned against the accelerated rollout, and the Tory MPs in their own ranks who have had the sense to recognise the catastrophe that is coming.

"The evidence is overwhelming: Universal Credit, as it stands, will cause untold misery and stress in our communities."

Malcolm Fallow, chief executive of poverty charity The East Durham Trust, said: “We are aware of the impact it is going to have with its demand on the emergency food parcel service we run and we would anticipate a 40 per cent increase in that.

“Services that we operate around things like debt advice and benefit support we expect to double.

"It is particularly nasty to the people of east Durham because of the impending Christmas period as well.

"If this goes ahead as the Government are planning, it will have the most devastating effect on the most vulnerable elements of our society."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes. It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.

“And it’s working. With Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal Credit is already in every jobcentre for single claimants, and we are rolling it out to a wider range of people in a safe and controlled way. The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.”