Universal credit’s hidden cut pushes disabled people into poverty

Severely disabled people, like Philip, are losing their lifeline as disability benefits disappear in the rollout of universal credit.

Universal credit is in full-blown crisis, from cross-party criticism of its inbuilt six-week delayto a symbolic government defeat in the Commons over pausing its rollout. But one of the policy’s most shameful parts is barely being noticed: the hidden cut being forced on some of Britain’s most severely disabled people.

Philip, 41, who has multiple mental and physical health problems – including severe anxiety and depression – knows it all too well. An injury in his 30s severely damaged his left foot and he can only move on crutches.

He medically retired as a roadsweeper in 2011 and before universal credit came in he was getting by on a patchwork of disability benefits. The titles – employment and support allowance (ESA), enhanced disability premium (EDP), and severe disability premium (SDP) – sound like government jargon, but to Philip they were his lifelines.

Under “welfare reform”, lifelines can be torn away fast: this summer, Philip moved flats across south London and found himself cross into universal credit territory. Although it will not be rolled out to ESA claimants until 2019, Philip’s change in circumstance by moving house meant he was transferred onto universal credit early. What he discovered was a reality that scores of disabled people across the UK will soon be facing: neither EDP nor SDP exist under universal credit.

Do the sums and changing to universal credit means Philip is losing £40 a week. That’s a cut of more than £2,000 a year. The result is brutal. Philip can no longer afford to eat properly. Instead, he’s skipping meals. “I’m feeling physically weaker now,” he says.

Philip no longer has enough money to pay for the taxis he needs to get to his hospital appointments. “I get very anxious on public transport and don’t feel very safe,” he explains.

The financial strain doesn’t stop there. When he moved his rent was not fully paid for three weeks. He is appealing, but is now in rent arrears of over £450.

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/31/universal-credit-pushing-disabled-people-into-poverty

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Tales from the Universal Credit frontline

It’s more than the 6 week wait that makes Universal Credit a disaster. Here’s a few tales picked up from my Facebook feed.

…….

“My experience claiming UC can only be described as absolutely disastrous. Every month having to query delayed/late payments via their shambolic telephone system. Umpteen letters informing me my claim’s been suspended that were sent in error and tomorrow I’ll be contacting them again in regards to an overpayment. The issues never seem to subside . . . Teething problems??! No, the system’s unfit for purpose!”

“I am utterly distraught and have never been so poor in my life. I work ..for the NHS, hilariously!!! on minimum wage. Will run out of gas and electric tomorrow and I don’t know where to turn. Am soooo worried and stressed. Working on UC sucks”

“I work full time and am paid 4 weekly, so this month I have no UC, due to being paid twice in 1 assessment period, and my wage isn’t even enough to cover the rent and bills. Any journalists about?”

“When speaking to the council last week the guy said to me that the council tax system had changed. For those who get housing benefit automatically get council tax support, but with universal credits they take your housing element as a form of income, and calculate your income based on everything u get! This morning we received our council tax bill from now as just moved until April! 668! Wtf!!! So because I get more as I’m disabled and husband is my carer, we have to pay the full council tax amount!!! How can we even afford this?!?!”

“So iv just received my universal credit payment today of 5.77 as opposed to 250. It turns out I was sanctioned from 8/09/2017 But they thought it wasn’t at all necessary to notify me of this sanction. I phoned on the 15th to explain why i wasn’t there on the 8th and rescheduled another appointment for the 20th where i would present my evidence for the reason for not attending. However when i arrived on the 20th i was left waiting over 30mins and had other things to do that day. It was then rescheduled again to today which they canceled and then rescheduled to the 18th 
They are responsible for me not getting to work today.
A job I have ONLY just started. How I’m supposed to live on
5.77 for a whole month is simply beyond me.”

“Last year, two days before Xmas my benefits got frozen! I was gutted, what a time to skint a mother out with her child tax that was to cover me and my son through the week holiday! I remember feeling so upset, had to borrow money from people. No warning, nothing! Didn’t know what was going on or why my money was frozen two days before Xmas, universal fucking credit! And then got nothing till March!”

“Was homeless in a hostel but got kicked out as my universal credit not enough to cover it; what we supposed to do??? Government should re-think it as it’s causing so much grief that people can do without! !”

“I’m newly self employed. 
I have a year to get my income up to my minimum income floor which is 25 x £7.50 (minimum wage). This is because I have a child under 13. 
So after a year my earnings will be considered to be £750 per month whether they are or not!! I’ll loose council tax benefit and some housing. Plus free prescriptions and dentist!
This means I have to earn double that amount to be able to maintain my overheads.
This is really hitting us self employed people hard.”

Well once again I have been sanctioned!!! Fucking had enough of this! 2 months for not doing enough work search! I wrote it all down and she took it at the job centre I’ve applied for job after job. Going to every appointment and even going to work programme! I seriously can’t handle this anymore universal credit can have the money!!”

 

People on Universal Credit are being refused prescriptions and dental care

GPs and dental practices can’t tell who is eligible for free treatment under Universal Credit – meaning some claimants are going without, Left Foot Forward can reveal.

People are being denied prescriptions and dental care because practices do not know whether Universal Credit claimants are eligible for free treatment, according to evidence seen by Left Foot Forward.  

Under the current welfare regime, those on certain benefits – such as Jobseekers’ Allowance – receive free NHS prescriptions and dental treatment, Healthy Start vouchers and other government-funded support.

But the Conservatives’ Universal Credit scheme wraps several benefits into one. While the principle has broad cross-party support, dental practices and GPs are now unsure who is eligible to receive free treatment.

Those on working tax credits, for example, are not eligible for free treatment – but practices have no information on whether UC claimants are receiving the tax credits element of UC, in which case they’re ineligible, or the JSA element.

The confusion is leaving people already on the margins either having to fork out for dental care and prescriptions themselves – leaving them out of pocket – or going without treatment altogether, according to reports from the single parents charity Gingerbread and seen by Left Foot Forward.

The problem stems from the fact that the administration system hasn’t caught up. There is no way on NHS forms to make it clear how to declare that individuals are on UC – whereas for existing benefits, such as income support or JSA, there are specific boxes to confirm eligibility.

One single mum in touch with Gingerbread has incurred fines because of the changes in health assistance under UC. She has received a letter from the NHS informing her that she owes money for dental treatment and a prescription, explaining that they have fined her as a result. She says she was never fully informed how UC would affect her NHS support – and is currently unable to pick up a prescription given to her GP because she can’t afford to pay. She says she will only be able to get this essential prescription when she receives her next payment.

Daisy Srblin, Policy Officer at Gingerbread, told Left Foot Forward:

“The arbitrary waits built into the system clearly cause significant problems when a parent transitions onto UC. But the challenges people face don’t end there – day-to-day financial difficulties are made worse by unexpected costs such as dental fees and prescriptions.

“The official advice is pay first and claim later – but for many this is a cost they simply can’t afford. The aim has been a simplified benefits system; the reality is that the NHS and DWP systems (like so many other government departments) don’t work together, creating confusion, complexity and often additional costs for single parents.

“We want to see the administrative challenges resolved, and for Universal Credit claimants to be supported as they are entitled to be so that they are not pushed further into debt.”

Another single mum Gingerbread has spoken to has received a letter notifying her of prescription charges. The NHS informed her that she needs to provide them with a full breakdown of her UC award so they can assess her eligibility for support.

However, her Job Centre are telling her that the information they have provided her to date is enough – despite it being different to the documents requested by the NHS. With no consistent guidance and no money to pay the charges herself, she doesn’t know how to resolve the issue.

read more here: https://leftfootforward.org/2017/10/exclusive-people-on-universal-credit-are-being-refused-prescriptions-and-dental-care

IF IT WASN’T FOR YOUR HELP TODAY I WAS CONSIDERING COMMITTING SUICIDE. I CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE. TODAY’S DEMO.

“Here is an awful case that shows that combined with bad advice, a lack of compassion and Universal Credit can and does ruin a persons life.”

Today was extremely busy, mainly because we now have a new influx of people needing help that had previously been signing on at Stalybridge Jobcentre which has recently been shut down. The impact of a Jobcentre shutting down is massive and it can’t be underestimated, especially in rural areas. How on earth can they expect claimants to walk miles to their nearest Jobcentre is beyond me. But i do know that this is a calculated and cruel move by the government to make it extremely hard for a claimant to fulfil their Jobseekers Agreement, therefore resulting on more sanctions etc.

Here is an awful case that shows that combined with bad advice, a lack of compassion and Universal Credit can and does ruin a persons life.

Please note that this is a true, honest account, and nor am I passing on any personal details as requested.

As soon as I arrived I saw a man shuffling out of the Jobcentre, I could see that he was unhappy and needed help. After four years I’ve learnt to recognise the signs.

As soon as I said hello to him, he started to tell me about his problems. He will remain nameless for respect for him and also so that he doesn’t get any repercussions from the DWP.

He told me that he had been sanctioned again, he didn’t know why and his advisor wouldn’t tell him either. He was told to phone up the 0345 number which at the moment costs a person up to 55p a min to phone. He waited for ages to speak to someone and then he ran out of credit, so now he can’t use his phone.

He had always worked since the age of 15, until he had a heart attack five years ago. this left him unable to work so upon advice given he then claimed ESA. This was going ok for a while until he attended an ATOS medical, when they declared him fit for work. He clearly wasn’t. So he appealed this decision, won his appeal and reclaimed his ESA.

The stress of this didn’t do him any good so he became ill and had to be admitted to hospital for a heart related illness. The consultant advised him to stay away from stressful situations. Easier to say than do though, especially when he was called up for another ESA medical.

They declared him fit for work so he then went to the Jobcentre to try and claim Jobseekers Allowance until his appeal was accepted. However his advisor told him that he had to claim Universal Credit. He had no choice and nor could he appeal the ESA decision. We know that this is wrong, but this is what they are doing to people folks.

He then went ahead made his claim and was told that he had to work, he had no choice. So against his consultants decision he found a 16 hour a week job, which was supposedly topped up by Universal Credit.

He ended up far worse off financially because the way that universal credit is worked out it actually makes a person worse off in work and he was effectively working for 33p a hour.

Then his hours were reduced to 10 a week. He knew that he couldn’t survive on this, and he also knew that he would be punished by the Universal Credit system for the decision that was made by his employer. He was told to find more hours to work or there was a possibility that he would be sanctioned.

As a result he became ill because of the stress and couldn’t cope. He has subsequently been sanctioned and has had no money for a few weeks.

Straight away I reassured him that we are here for him, that we can help him. He told me that he was close to committing suicide, and was serious about it, but our kindness has made him rethink this. He didn’t think that anyone would help, because no one cared. I told him that we do care and that we would help him to sort this out.

I gave him a food parcel which he was overjoyed at recieving, I don’t think that he has eaten anything decent for a while. I then telephoned his local MPS office and asked his team if they could see him asap. Because his case is complicated, and there is more to it than I have explained above, seeing his MP is essential. There’s nothing like a letter from an MP to get things moving, because if there is one thing that the DWP hate is an MP becoming involved in a case. I did also inform him of other local organisations, but he said that he wasn’t ready for them yet but maybe he will be after he has spoken to his MPs office.

I know that he will be treated with the upmost respect when he meets them, and they are a great team. Remember folks, go and see your MP if you can. Even if they are Conservative, because they need to hear your problems, even if some won’t deal with it then need to hear them. I’m now confident that his life will improve.

Read more here: https://thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/if-it-wasnt-for-your-help-today-i-was-considering-committing-suicide-i-cant-take-anymore-todays-demo/

Universal credit and tax credit debt collection… wtf is going on here. My god

From Kate belgrave’s blog.

Let’s finish the week as we started it – ie trying to make sense of the Universal Credit “system”:

I just finished speaking to the young Universal Credit claimant I wrote about earlier in the week. Readers of this site will be familiar with this woman’s story. This woman must carry out her Universal Credit compliance activities through Croydon jobcentre even though she lives in Colchester. She’s also been having £100+ deducted from her Universal Credit payments each month to repay a Universal Credit advance payment – the advance payments that David Gauke assures us will help people avoid (don’t laugh) the debts caused by delays in Universal Credit payments.

Now, the DWP has landed another debt on this young woman. This is a tax credit debt that she is sure she does not owe. The DWP has suddenly (this week) started deducting £25 a month from this woman’s Universal Credit payments. That’s another £25 gone each month from this woman’s money. She didn’t expect this deduction (at all) and she hasn’t budgeted for it. You see what I mean when I say that the state keeps broadsiding people with debts they can’t pay.

read her story here: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2017/10/universal-credit-and-tax-credit-debt-collection-wtf-is-going-on-here-my-god/

 

Revealed: universal credit sends rent arrears soaring

Housing chiefs’ warning on effect of flagship Tory welfare reform

Ministers are coming under intense pressure to put the brakes on the government’s flagship welfare reform programme, following damning new evidence that it is leaving thousands of low-paid workers unable to pay their rent and at risk of homelessness.

The Observer can reveal a catalogue of concerns from landlords, councils and charities about universal credit, which have been handed to a parliamentary inquiry investigating the programme.

With the accelerated roll-out of the new system just weeks away, some warn that rent arrears among tenants receiving universal credit are running at three, four or even five times the level of those on the old system. Three councils whose tenants have already been moved on to universal credit said they had built up about £8m in rent arrears. Croydon, Hounslow and Southwark said that more than 2,500 tenants claiming it were now at risk of eviction.

Some food banks reported that marriages had broken down as a result of the extra pressures of waiting for payments, while some landlords are now choosing not to accept tenants on universal credit.

Figures obtained by the Observer under the Freedom of Information Act also show that half of all council tenants across 105 local authorities who receive the housing element of universal credit – which replaces housing benefit – are at least a month behind on their rent, with 30% two months behind.

By contrast, less than 10% of council tenants on housing benefit are a month behind on their rent, with under 5% running more than two months behind.

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/16/universal-credit-rent-arrears-soar?

Stroke sufferer may need to sell his home after being denied benefits

A Somerset man, who was left partially paralysed after suffering a stroke, may be forced to sell his house. This is because he has accumulated high levels of debt whilst waiting to receive benefit payments.

Chris Gold was initially refused the Universal Credit benefit after being told he should be working.

This was despite Chris suffering brain damage as well as paralysis following the stroke.

After a life driving a lorry around the world, in a job he loved, Chris now rarely leaves the downstairs of his house.

His current situation means that he can barely afford to live there at all.

A stroke in 2015 left Chris with brain damage and without feeling in parts of his body.

When his employment and support allowance was stopped he was told to apply for the new Universal Credit. However when he did so, he was told he should be working.

Chris said, “The doctor’s given me a sick note saying I’m unfit for work – I have to do what the doctors tell me. They’ve got the knowledge – they know how stroke victims are.”

“I just think it’s unfair that the Department for Work and Pensions can do this to people when they’re unwell. Irrespective of what they say, the doctors are saying I’m not well.”

“I want to keep the house because I’ve worked hard for thirty eight years but it just seems unfair that I’ve worked all my life to buy a house and now I’m going to end up with nothing.”

read more here: http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2017-06-30/stroke-sufferer-may-need-sell-his-home-after-being-denied-benefits/