MILLIONS of Universal Credit claimants could be forced to use food banks because of the lengthy five-week wait for their first benefit payment.
That’s the findings from housing association Riverside, which warns that an additional 2.05million people will be pushed to use food banks if things continue as they are.
Universal Credit claimants currently have to wait five weeks for their first benefits payment to be made – something The Sun is campaigning to slash to two weeks as part of its Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
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 mum Mel Lock who waited a whopping nine weeks for her first Universal Credit payment.
As well as dad, Martin Weaver, who lives in a caravan because he ran out of cash during his four-week wait.
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.
You can request what’s known as an “advance payment” to tie you over while you’re waiting but you have to repay this loan out of the next year’s monthly Universal Credit payments.
It effectively means you’re pushed into debt before you’ve even received your first payment.
Riverside’s research found that 90 per cent of the more than 350 claimants it asked waited for more than four weeks for their first Universal Credit payment, while 43 per cent waited more than six weeks.
Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of respondents said the advance loan repayment process was causing them financial hardship by reducing the amount they have to live on each month.
Meanwhile, two claimants in every five (41 per cent) have had to rely on help from food banks in order to feed themselves and their family after moving on to the new benefit.
While Riverside’s survey sample was small, it estimates that by the time everyone is rolled onto Universal Credit 2.05million will have to rely on help from food banks and other voluntary organisations.
While it reckons 3.1million people will see an increase in debt and it expects 3.5million more Brits to struggle to keep up with household bills.
Arrears for Riverside tenants claiming Universal Credit are more than three and a half times higher than those who are not claiming at £601 compared to £173.
'Universal Credit 9-week wait for cash made me beg for food from friends and family'
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 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.
The single mum 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.
“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.
“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.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said at the time: “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.”
It comes as recent research revealed that 120,000 people on Universal Credit have fallen behind on rent – and 500 have been evicted.
Hugh Owen, director of strategy and public affairs at The Riverside Group, said: “Our findings clearly show that our tenants are experiencing increased financial difficulty because of the wait for Universal Credit.
“The five week wait means that many people are going without food or heating and are getting into debt to cover their bills.
“While we have always welcomed the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit such as Universal Credit is intended to bring, the way it is being implemented in practice means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”
Charity Trussell Trust, which runs food banks across the country, also believes the five-week wait for Universal Credit is pushing families into debt and hardship.
While other charities have warned that terminally ill people are also among those being pushed into debt by the wait for cash.
Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said: “Too many people are being forced to food banks because they don’t have enough money as they wait at least five weeks for their first universal credit payment.
“This wait is five weeks too long – ending it must be the government’s first priority.”
Make Universal Credit Work
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson points out that the reasons for people using food banks are complex, and that it would be wrong to link a rise to any one cause.
A DWP spokesperson said: “With Universal Credit no one has to wait five weeks to be paid, as your first payment is available as an advance on day one, and 95 per cent of Universal Credit payments are made in full and on time.
“Many people join Universal Credit with pre-existing arrears but research shows that number falls by a third after four months. And the simpler system means 700,000 families are now getting on average £285 more a month.”
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