A FIVE-week wait for Universal Credit is pushing vulnerable people into debt and hardship, a new report has found.
StepChange and the Trussell Trust are warning that the Government’s “advance payments” offered to cash-strapped Brits while they wait for their benefits are not working.
2 Mum Kylie, and tots Emmie and Leo, was forced into a drug-filled B&B after Universal Credit delays meant she couldn’t pay rentCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
The debt and food bank charities said that the loans are “not a solution” to the wait-time which is plunging claimants further into debt.
The Sun’s Make Universal Credit Work campaign is calling for the gap to be reduced to two weeks.
It will help people like single mum-of-two Kylie Goodyear who is now living in a caravan after being evicted because Universal Credit delays meant she couldn’t pay rent.
And nurse Therese Nakitende, 28, who was so desperate for cash while she waited that she sold her kids’ toys so she could afford to buy food.
2 Therese Nakitende sold her kids’ toys to pay for food while she waited for her first Universal Credit paymentCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit WorkUNIVERSAL Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment.
One million people are already receiving it and by the time the system is fully rolled out in 2023, nearly 7 million will be on it.
But there are big problems with the flagship new system – it takes 5 weeks to get the first payment and it could leave some families worse off by thousands of pounds a year.
And while working families can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, they must find the money to pay for childcare upfront – we’ve heard of families waiting up to 6 months for the money.
Working parents across the country told us they’ve been unable to take on more hours – or have even turned down better paid jobs or more hours because of the amount they get their benefits cut.
It’s time to Make Universal Credit work. We want the Government to:
Get paid faster: The Government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop 7 million from being pushed into debt.
Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85 per cent of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.
Together, these changes will help Make Universal Credit Work.
Join our Universal Credit Facebook group or email UniversalCredit@the-sun.co.uk to share your story.
Dad Martin Weaver now lives in a caravan because he ran out of cash during his four-week wait.
The loans can be equal to one month’s benefit but they have to be repaid within 12 months of them being taken out.
According to the report, a quarter of all Universal Credit claimants had payments slashed by more than 20 per cent to pay back debts, including advance payments, while two fifths saw benefits cut by 10 per cent.
The worst hit are families on low incomes, especially when their benefits are designed to provide only a minimum amount to live on.
For some households, these debts are on top of tax credit repayments.
StepChange believes that a deduction of just 5 per cent would push nearly half of the people it helps who are on benefits into arrears.
The charity’s previous research showed that a quarter of those on Universal Credit cut back on buying food to make ends meet and repay the debts.
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal CreditIF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:
Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it’s a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit pay out.
Alternative Payment Arrangements- If you’re falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you’re part of a couple.
Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the government to help with emergency household costs of up to £348 if you’re single, £464 if you’re part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You’ll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You’ll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your payments aren’t enough to cover your rent.
Foodbanks – If you’re really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.
While the Government’s flagship benefit system aims to get people back into work, the report found that 15 per cent of workers with debt woes said they had a negative impact at work, such as arriving late or taking more time off.
A group of MPs issued the same warning about the five-week wait back in January this year.
In February, DWP Secretary Amber Rudd admitted that Universal Credit has pushed people to food banks since being rolled out in 2013.
In November last year, she hinted that the wait-time could be cut down but still nothing has changed.
Now, the charities have teamed up to launch the #5WeeksTooLong campaign to “showcase the harmful impact the five week wait and deductions can have”.
EXTRA CREDIT Families on Universal Credit pushed into poverty due to benefit freeze and cap OUT OF CREDIT I was forced to turn down my dream job because of Universal Credit OUT OF POCKET 120,000 people on Universal Credit behind on rent – and 500 have been evicted NEW LOW Struggling families warned to beware new Universal Credit scam that stops benefits ExclusiveCASH CRISIS Universal Credit delay left nurse so desperate for cash she sold her kids’ toys
Garry Lemon, from the Trussell Trust, said: “It’s no surprise that taking money off these already low payments to pay back advance payments pulls people deeper into crisis right at the very point when support is most needed.”
Peter Tutton, from StepChange, added: “Benefit deductions for debt repayments are leaving households short of what they need to get by, with many forced to borrow to make up the difference.
“With over a million people already using high cost credit to fill holes in their monthly budget, it must be a priority to not make this debt trap worse.”
The Sun has contacted the DWP for comment.
The Sun speaks to locals of Morecambe Bay on their struggle with Universal Credit
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