Record number of Brits have Universal Credit benefits cut to pay for debts or cash to cope with 5-week wait

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RECORD numbers of Brits on Universal Credit are having their benefit payments cut to pay back advance cash and other debts.

Fresh statistics show 840,000 people are now having chunks taken out of their allowance to pay back racked up debts or the cash they were given to help them before their first payment.

Universal Credit sign on window
Hundreds of thousands of Brits have their Universal Credit payments reduced to pay for debts or advance payments
Getty Images – Getty

That’s 57 per cent of people on the benefits system in February 2019, compared to 53 per cent last October.

Of those people, half (420,000) had 20 per cent taken off them, and almost a third (238,000) had between 31 and 40 per cent reduced.

13,000 Brits were having more than 40 per cent of their allowance taken back in repayments.

The numbers were revealed in a written Parliamentary question last week to Ruth George MP.

They show that more Brits are resorting to taking out advances to help them survive when waiting five weeks for their first benefits payment.

It’s this waiting period that plunges vulnerable people further into debt, which is why The Sun is calling for it to be slashed to as part of our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.

The statistics will raise fresh questions about the number of Brits on the benefits system that are in debt, too and are struggling to pay it back.

60 per cent choose to take an advance when they go over onto the new system.

But Government officials said it was because Secretary of State Amber Rudd had changed policy to increase awareness of advances – to help them out while they wait five weeks for their first cash payment.

And they said that 100 per cent of advances are available on day one for people who need it.

The DWP says they can take action to stop deductions if claimants are vulnerable, at risk of eviction, or having their gas or electricity cut off.

Ruth George said today the hundreds of thousands of households “suffering deductions” need help now.

And she told the Work and Pensions Committee that a whopping 1.5million are predicted to have deductions from their benefits payment by this time next year.

Universal Credit is now fully rolled out across the country, with 2 million Brits on the new six-in-one system.

MP Ruth George said those people needed help with their debt relief now, but changes aren’t set to come in until October

How the number of people on Universal Credit having their payments cut to cover debts has increased over time

May 2017: One in 10

December 2017: One in five

May 2018: One in three

October 2018: One in two (53 per cent)

February 2019: More than one in two 57 per cent

Chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Frank Field told The Sun: “Time and time again we have asked DWP how much it’s taking off benefit claimants, and how it makes sure people have enough left to live on, and we just can’t get a straight answer.

“Families’ incomes have been ‘reformed’, frozen, cut, sanctioned and capped to below liveable, and the Department’s answer to the resulting destitution is an ‘advance’ that will be clawed back from monthly incomes that already don’t make ends meet. The one thing these numbers do accurately represent is the growing number of people locked ever deeper into this miserable cycle of debt and insecurity.”

Brendan Sarsfield, Chief Executive at Peabody housing association told The Sun: “These figures prove that Universal Credit is failing hundreds of thousands of people across the country. The principle of the policy is right, but the 5 week wait for money at the start of a claim is pushing people into poverty.

“One of the first priorities for the new prime minister must be to make the system fit for purpose. As a starting point that means reducing the 5 week wait rather than government clawing back advance loans from people’s desperately needed benefits.

“This would be the most cost effective and beneficial measure they could take.”

“The Government recognises the importance of safeguarding the welfare of claimants who have incurred debt,” minister Alok Sharma said in response to the question.

But the numbers of those getting their payment cut for loans or advances don’t include the number of Brits who are being sanctioned for failing to look for work – or other reasons.

The Sun revealed earlier this week that sanctions for Brits are on Universal Credit are at record lows as more people are meeting their conditions, or have been exempt from sanctions altogether

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.


Ministers ruled they would reduce the top amount down from 40 per cent to 30 per cent in October.
And the DWP will extend the amount of time Brits have to pay it back from 12 to 16 months but not until 2021.

A DWP spokesman said: “Some people struggle to pay bills so we make deductions from their Universal Credit to pay off debts directly, such as rent and fuel arrears, to help keep them in their homes.

“Universal Credit simplifies the previously complex approach to deductions, and we have recently reduced the maximum amount that can be deducted from someone’s claim.”

What is a Universal Credit advance payment, how do you apply and when do you pay it back?

STRUGGLING Brits waiting for their first Universal Credit payment can apply for an advance to get them through.

It can take up to five weeks before you are enrolled on the system and in the meantime your existing benefits will stop altogether.

It’s this waiting period that plunges vulnerable people further into debt, which is why The Sun is calling for it to be slashed to two weeks as part of our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.

Claimants can borrow up to 100 per cent of their estimated payment but you can also ask for less.

Its interest free and you have an amount of it paid back each month through a cut to your existing Universal Credit payment.

The money will be transferred to you within three working days and is supposed to last the full five weeks before your first payment.

You can ask for an advance as soon as you make your first claim up until you receive the first payment.

You can either speak to your work coach at the job centre or apply by calling the helpline on 0800 328 5644, Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm.

Claimants who have taken out a loan are expected to pay it back within the first 12 months of getting it.


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