A POSSIBLE link between the rollout of Universal Credit and a rise in shoplifting in County Durham is being probed.

According to the latest figures, Bishop Auckland, Crook, Newton Aycliffe, Spennymoor, Chester-le-Street and Stanley have all seen increases in the crime.

And across the county, reports of shoplifting have leapt by more than a fifth, a Durham County Council scrutiny meeting heard.

Tom Gorman, the council’s performance manager said: “We’re looking into shoplifting in connection with the rollout of Universal Credit.

“The early results on that are a bit inconclusive, but it is significant in some areas where UC has been rolled out already and not in others. We’re looking into whether there’s any more we can do to get a better picture on this.”

Universal Credit is one of the government’s flagship benefits reforms, intended to encourage claimants into employment by replicating the ‘world of work’.

The scheme has had problems since it was unveiled in 2010, including delayed or late payments and a lack of support for those moving from weekly to monthly payments.

Friday’s meeting also heard public confidence in the police and council’s ability to deal with anto-social behaviour (ASB) and crime was falling.

However, figures also showed a fall in the number of ASB incidents being reported to the county council or Durham Constabulary between April – December, compared to the same period the previous year.

“I know it’s largely about public perception,” said Cllr Rob Crute.

“I know it will largely be subjective, but do [the public] actually know the constraints on the police and the council in dealing with these issues?

“How do we feed the message back that we’re doing what we can?”