WITH no food in the cupboard, Mel Lock begged friends and family for cash to feed her son, 9, and keep a roof over their heads while she waited NINE WEEKS for her first Universal Credit payment.
The 43-year-old from Sutton was rolled onto the Government’s flagship welfare system in 2016 after being made redundant from her role as a learning support worker.
Mel had to wait NINE weeks for her first Universal Credit payment
Mel says that a series of blunders by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) left her without any cash to pay her rent and she was forced to borrow £900 from friends and family.
Claimants usually wait five weeks for their first Universal Credit payment, but The Sun wants the Government to reduce this time to two weeks, as we’ve highlighted in our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
The single mum, who is on antidepressants, turned down the Universal Credit advance payments which are available as she was worried about getting into further debt because she already owed £1,500 on credit cards after getting behind on bills.
At the same time she had been hit with a £1,500 tax bill, which she challenged and thankfully got reduced to £261.
Mel has described the “crippling” pressure lone mums face trying to make ends meet under the new system, and explains that as she’s always worked she feels let down by the new benefit system.
“I’ve paid my taxes since I was 18, and always worked, but I’ve been treated abominably and less favourably than a dog,” she said.
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.
“It was an incredibly difficult time. I was suffering from mental health problems following the breakdown of my marriage, which had seen me lose my home and loads of personal items.
“I felt at rock bottom, destroyed, and to top it all off I felt like I was living on a knife edge the whole time, and worrying about money. I wanted to keep my landlord happy as I’m scared to be thrown out and it’s so difficult to find housing.
“I’m just lucky that my family could help me.”
Mel, who now works around 16 hours a week as a self-employed carer for the elderly, was crippled by the wait for cash and it has had a knock-on effect on her finances ever since.
“As soon as I see a bill, it’s the stress of ‘how am I going to pay for this?’ and not sleeping and it sends you into a spin”, she told The Sun.
Mel, who started her own business in May 2018, only earns around £10 to £65 a month after tax and expenses. She also receives around £290 a month in child maintenance from her son’s father.
Melanie Lock Mel says it’s really difficult to budget on Universal Credit as you never know how much you’ll be paid each month
“You’re always having to juggle and fight for everything on Universal Credit – you’re always worried about everything, and it’s very hard to do anything nice for yourself because you don’t have the money and you feel very guilty.
“Universal Credit has been creating more and more debt as you never know where you are with your finances; you get something taken off here and then something else tweaked there.
“It was easier to manage under the old system as you knew were you were. Now, I’m running on empty.”
Are you on Universal Credit? Tell us your story. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and join our Universal Credit Facebook group.
‘The government has failed single mums’
Mel is also struggling as her childcare provider – despite being Ofsted registered – is no longer recognised under the Universal Credit scheme, and she points out that it’s mums who bear the brunt of childcare issues.
“The system always penalises the person with childcare responsibility not the person who is absent.
“I feel the Government has let down single mums.
“I’ve followed its rules by using an Ofsted registered provider but now it’s moved the goalposts.”
Mel is taking DWP to court over its decision to stop funding her son’s childcare
Mel says her childcare provider is the only one flexible enough to provide care around her job and that losing her son’s place would mean joining a long waiting list to find a new one.
She is now taking the DWP to court over its decision to stop funding care costs.
Under Universal Credit, workers are supposed to be repaid up to 85 per cent of childcare costs – but they have to foot the upfront bill themselves.
DWP says that as Mel’s childcare provider gives private tuition it doesn’t meet its requirements – this is despite it paying the bill in the past.
“There just aren’t enough jobs within school hours and all this pressure they pile on, let alone the pressure and reality of being a single mum and having to manage the finances. It doesn’t stop. It’s crippling,” said Mel.
Despite Universal Credit helping Mel to set up her own business through its free mentoring programme – a scheme she is grateful for and says has been really useful – she’s still worried about the future.
“It’s depressing thinking about the future. The lack of security, and not knowing when my rental comes up for renewal if I’ll have somewhere to live.
Darren Fletcher – The Sun Universal Credit has helped Mel to set up her own business but she’s still worried about the future
“I’m never going to have my own house again as prices are so high.
“My career has gone as my confidence has been kicked to the floor.
“That’s half the reason why I set up my own company as I don’t see any other way out.”
Dalia Ben-Galim, director of policy at single parent charity Gingerbread warns that more and more self-employed parents are being pushed into debt by Universal Credit.
She said: “Self-employment for single parents has rapidly grown. There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of single parents who are self-employed over the past decade alone.
“For some, this is what they want, but for most single parents, it’s mainly due to a lack of flexible alternatives.
“But a fluctuating self-employed income coupled with Universal Credit risks self-employed single parents being plunged into debt.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We apologise for any distress caused by the delay in paying Ms Lock’s claim.
“She now receives support in full and on time and her latest payment was more than £1,600.
“Ms Lock’s childcare provider offers private tuition which is not a recoverable childcare cost within current Universal Credit guidance.”
WELFARE WORRIES Benefit payment dates this Easter – what you need to know BENEFITS WIN Disabled pensioners will no longer have to review PIP tests to get benefits NO CREDIT Universal Credit makes mental health problems WORSE, warns Martin Lewis’ charity ExclusiveON THE BREADLINE I have £1.80 a day to feed my family after 7-week Universal Credit delay EXTRA HELP Over 3m on benefits and Universal Credit missing out on £1,200 Help to Save cash
It comes as new research from Martin Lewis’s charity has found that Universal Credit makes mental health problems WORSE.
One mum struggling with childcare costs was told by Universal Credit staff to leave her daughter, eight, at home alone while she went to work.
Universal Credit’s taper rate left another mum so broke she had to rely on her friend’s leftover party food to feed her seven-year-old daughter.
‘I spent my £300-a-month Universal Credit money on booze and lost my kids – now I’m sharing a bed with my mum’
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