DESPERATE mums on Universal Credit have revealed they are being forced to choose between heating and food.
One young mum says she has to turn the Christmas tree lights off, while another says she can’t afford to go out with her family on Boxing Day.
Universal Credit is a new welfare scheme designed to wrap a number of benefits, including jobseekers allowance and child tax credits, into a single monthly payment.
The system is designed to be far simpler and should incentivise work – but so far the roll out has seen problems and many families are being stripped of their hard-earned cash.
One of the main issues is that it takes at least five weeks for people to get their first payment - and in the meantime many are left without money to pay their bills, get to work or even eat.
Martha Thompson, of Cliftonville, Kent, is one of those whose family has been left short in the changeover and facing a disappointing Christmas.
The mum-of-one, who lives in Cliftonville, Kent, with her husband Michael and six-year-old daughter Elsie, said at first they thought Universal Credit would be a helpful top up on her husband’s wages.
But Martha, who suffers with chronic pain, anxiety, OCD and fibromyalgia, said they were told in September that a form was missing and wouldn’t receive the full payment.
She said: “It was just awful when they told me. I ended up having a panic attack in the middle of the Jobcentre from the shock.”
After taking into account her husband’s wages from his job at a cinema, the family has just £900 a month to live on compared to £1,300 before moving onto Universal Credit.
What is Universal Credit and who does it affect?
Universal Credit is a new welfare scheme designed to wrap a number of benefits into a single monthly payment.
Universal Credit replaces the following benefits:
Whether you can claim Universal Credit depends on where you live and your circumstances.
Currently, Universal Credit is mainly claimed by the unemployed, or those on a low income.
If you’re already on benefits, you don’t need to apply for Universal Credit unless your circumstances change or you’re told to by the DWP.
She said: “Our money has dropped dramatically. We are short every month, just for our bills.
“We have maxed out the credit card, we are living off beans on toast, the heating is only on for one hour a day.
“It’s awful for our daughter, she is back having school dinners, which she hates and sometimes doesn’t eat but I can’t afford to make a packed lunch.
“We are borrowing money off family saying we will pay it back one day.”
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Mrs Thompson also said the family doesn’t feel Christmas will be as special this year.
She said: “We can’t afford new decorations for the tree, any treats or any of the things that make Christmas special.
“We have to turn the lights off the tree because it wastes more electricity.”
Diane Davies, from Margate, said her disabled 63-year-old mum, who has asked not to be named, is unable to afford food or heat her home.
She explained: “My mum has been signed off sick by the doctor for three years because one of her discs slipped.
“There are some days she cannot walk, other days she is better. But Universal Credit says she’s fit to work.
“They have spent hundreds of pounds sending her on computer courses to prepare her for a new job – but she’s got arthritis in her hands which means some days only two of her fingers work.”
Her credit was stopped a month ago because she has been unable to fill in her daily journal.
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 Trussel Trust website.
Now, Ms Davies said she has been forced to buy her mum basic groceries as she has been let down by the system.
She said: “It breaks my heart sometimes.
“Everyone should have access to basic rights such as eating and heating their houses and its awful people can not afford that.”
Mum-of-two, Marie Griggs, from Folkestone, Kent, said that after bills and rent she’s left with about £60 a week to live on.
The 40-year-old, who says PTSD, social anxiety and bipolar disorder have left her unable to work, said there are no other options.
She said: “I get £1,000 a month. I couldn’t believe it when they said I have to pay my rent out of that. I don’t know how people live on it.
“I’ve been told I can go to a food bank but how embarrassing is that?”
Ms Griggs, who has two children age 14 and 9, added: “I cannot take my kids on days out any more, even just to the places we used to go before.
“Christmas is going to be tight. They are not getting as much as they did last year.
“All my family will going out on Boxing Day but we won’t be able to go.
WHERE TO GET HELP WITH DEBT
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with debt, the following organisations provide support.
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“I just think its unfair and people are struggling. It’s not a great time of year for people to be struggling with money.
“I do not know how I’m going to live in January because I’ve got to get through Christmas.”
Today, The Sun launched its Make Universal Credit Work campaign, demanding that the government acts now to fix its flagship welfare reform – before it’s too late.
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