AN alarming 2,261 people - including 815 children - needed emergency food supplies from a Taunton charity over a six-month period.

With the situation likely to worsen in the run up to Christmas, Taunton Foodbank is urgently appealing for donations.

The organisation handed out 1,075 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in the six months to the end of September - a 40 per cent hike on 771 over the same period last year.

Foodbank bosses blame it on people struggling with issues with benefit payments, particularly the roll out of Universal Credit - while Citizens Advice has been inundated with people struggling to cope since the new system was implemented.

Sue Weightman, Taunton Foodbank manager, said: "It's really worrying we're still seeing an increase in need for emergency food across Taunton Deane.

"This has been our busiest six-month period since we opened in 2012.

"Every week people are referred to us after something unavoidable - like illness, a delayed benefit payment or an unexpected bill - means there's no money for food.

"While we hope one day there'll be no need for our work, until that day comes, we'll be working hard to help prevent people going hungry."

Universal Credit, paid monthly to help with living costs, is supposed to make the benefits system less complicated by replacing several other benefits and is being introduced in stages nationwide.

But Miss Weightman said a six-week wait for the first payment can cause "debt, mental health issues and rent arrears", which can continue once people receive their first credits.

She added: "Taunton Foodbank is working hard to help prevent local people affected going hungry, but is troubled by the extra pressure this puts on food donation stocks and volunteers' capacity."

The charity is expecting a spike in foodbank use over the coming weeks and is working with referral agencies to ensure people likely to hit crisis due to cold weather and high energy bills have food ahead of Christmas Day.

It wants urgent donations of long life fruit juice, coffee, sugar, Christmas puddings and chocolates.

Meanwhile, Rhoda Cooke, welfare rights co-ordinator at Citizens Advice Taunton, has seen the number of Universal Credit clients shoot up to 648 in 2016-17, from 60 the previous year.

She said: "The principles behind Universal Credit are sound, but a mix of flaws in how the benefit was designed and problems with how it's being delivered is leaving many people’s finances in tatters.

"We’re already helping many people across Taunton Deane who are having problems with Universal Credit, and by 2022 if will affect thousands of households in the area.

"If the government doesn’t fix significant problems with Universal Credit then many families across Taunton Deane may be put at financial risk, which can in turn put huge pressure on other local services such as health, housing and social care."