NURSE Therese Nakitende has been left so destitute by Universal Credit blunders she’s been forced to sell her kids’ toys in order to buy food.
The 28-year-old is mum to Veronica, five, and 16-month-old Gabriel, and due to errors on her account she’s lost out on two months’ of childcare cash, plunging her into debt.
SWNS:South West News Service Therese Nakitende asked for Universal Credit help after a mixup at work meant she was left without pay for two months, but a catalogue of errors means she’s been left struggling to survive
“I’m a strong person but it has broken me down. It has destroyed me,” she tells The Sun Online.
“It does affect your mental health. You feel low, you don’t even want to go out you just want to sit in your house.
“You shut off because you’re just feeling full of shame – I can’t even pay my own bills.”
SWNS:South West News Service Therese with her children Veronica and Gabriel and her partner Derek, who is joining the army this month
Under Universal Credit, parents now have to pay childcare costs upfront, but can then claim up to 85 per cent back from the government.
Therese paid her nursery bills upfront, but when she went to upload her receipts to the DWP system to claim the money back, she was told she wouldn’t be getting a penny – as her receipts needed to be uploaded the same day they’re paid to be valid.
‘We could have been homeless’
She was left hundreds of pounds out of pocket, and has resorted to selling her kids’ toys as well as her jewellery, and borrowing thousands from her mum to survive.
Therese is speaking out to show it isn’t only the unemployed who have been hit by problems with the new Universal Credit system – it affects working people too.
She is a community nurse who visits patients at home, while her partner Derek is about to join the army and previously worked on the railways.
Are you on Universal Credit? Tell us your story. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and join our Universal Credit Facebook group.
The Sun has been highlighting the problems caused by the long wait for receiving the vital Government cash through our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
To help hard-working families, we want to see the standard five-wait week for first payment reduced to no more than two, further increases in the work allowance, a reduction in the taper rate from 63p to 50p of every £1 earned and upfront help with childcare costs.
All of these changes would help Therese and Derek.
“If it wasn’t for the support we have from family we would have been homeless,” she admits.
“It could have got to us not being able to eat but I have my partner’s mum. She’s offered us food from her cupboards.
“I’ve been having boot fares on Sundays, going out at 6am and selling kids’ toys, clothes that don’t fit and my clothes,”
The family’s new straitened circumstances haven’t gone unnoticed by the couple’s children.
“My daughter’s really seeing it and I feel guilty because I believe children shouldn’t be exposed to these things,” Therese says.
“You realise how much you take for granted. Before a bad day was getting a parking ticket that I could afford.”
“I’ve borrowed money from my mum, I owe her £2,000 now.
“My credit card’s maxed out – £5,000. My overdraft is £200 too.”
SWNS:South West News Service Therese and Derek have worked hard all their lives and are horrified they’ve had to rely on food handouts from family to survive over the last few months
Therese’s problems increased when a mix-up with a new nursing job meant she went without pay for two months.
With rent of £600 a month and travel costs of over £800, plus other bills, things quickly became grim.
She was incorrectly down as receiving maternity allowance so got no Universal Credit help, although she eventually managed to take out an advanced payment.Work doesn’t pay
“I’ve worked all my life, I’ve paid taxes all my work, I’m genuinely in need and only asking help for a month or two until I get paid and it seemed like getting blood out of a stone,” she says.
Things have got so bad she is now wondering if she is able to work at all.
“If the worst comes to the worst I pull out of work, which I don’t want to do and have never done before.”
SWNS:South West News Service Therese feels awful that her five-year-old daughter Veronica and 16-month-old son Gabriel have missed out because she has been so strapped for cash
“I went to payday loans but I was rejected.”
Therese has cut the family’s food shop by half by filling them up on pasta and potatoes and not buying any treats.
Trips to play areas are also out because they cost too much, with the couple spending money they’d set aside to try to buy a house.
But they are still battling a shortfall of around £1,000 a month while they wait for Therese’s wages to come in.
“What would I have done if I didn’t have my family? What would happen? I would not be able to afford rent. I’d be given notice and I’d probably be trying to look for a hostel.
“It’s really frightening. I never thought I’d be in this situation.”
The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work
UNIVERSAL 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.
SWNS:South West News Service Therese says she would have been made homeless if she hadn’t had family to turn to
Derek joins the army to work in heating and plumbing engineering this month and as Therese is in work too the couple know their situation will improve.
But they have been left with a mountain of debt because of Universal Credit blunders – and even worse is the guilt about the impact the last few months has had on their family.
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit
IF 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.
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The Sun Online contacted the DWP for comment on Therese’s case and a spokesperson said: “We have apologised to Miss Nakitende for the error and have made a full back payment for the arrears due.
“We will be closely monitoring future payments to ensure her monthly amounts are correct.”
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