Monday, October 14, 2019

Exclusive: ‘Suicidal’ Universal Credit claimant left with six months of rent arrears

She was left at risk of eviction, despite living with a disability and suffering from serious mental health issues.

Since 2013, Universal Credit has been rolling out over the country, it has created a lot of financial and emotional misery for the most vulnerable UK citizen, who are being pushed into rent arrears, sometimes homelessness, resulting in emotional distress.

On the 14th January 2019, Brendan Sarsfield, Peabody’s CEO wrote: “Changes are needed if Universal Credit is to work.”

He highlights the top five changes needed: invest time in removing errors, reduce the five-week wait at the start of a claim to two weeks, reverse cuts to disability benefits, automatically transfer claimants to the new system and halt sanctions for vulnerable groups.

The Trussell Trust’s latest statistics for 2019 shows it distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 19% increase on the previous year.

The nationwide charity has called for the minimum five-week wait for an initial Universal Credit payment to be abolished.

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

Patricia, a woman living in South East London, suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitis and has a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

On the 23rd of July 2018, Phoenix, her housing association, informed her, she owed them rent arrears.

Until then, Patricia was receiving PIP and ESA as well as Housing Benefit, which was directly paid to the Housing Association and, as far as she knew, she was still getting both benefits and all was in order.

After many attempts in contacting DWP, she finally spoke to a member of staff, who was confused as to why her Housing Benefit has been stopped as, indeed, she was still getting all her payments.

She was advised to reapply for Housing Benefit. In the meantime, her housing association, to whom she still owed rent, was still hounding her for the rent arrears.

Under a lot of stress, she set a direct debit up to pay £50 a fortnight.

It took about a month for the Housing Benefit claim to be processed.

Patricia was finally notified that the application was invalid because she was no longer entitled to ESA and needed to apply for Universal Credit, as the result of the recent roll out in her area, in July 2018.

She received no help regarding the online system to claim UC. Patricia tried to apply 8 times as the section verifying the claimant’s identity wasn’t working.

This created added stress and anxiety for Patricia. She contacted DWP to let them know about this technological problem and she was told that she needed to go to a specific JCP. She needed to book an appointment which created more delays for her claim.

Throughout this lengthy process, Patricia’s mental health deteriorated further as she had to list all of her medication and give an history of her background.

Photo: Paula Peters

She later became suicidal and reached out to Southbrook, SE London mental health service, for support in attending this appointment as she wasn’t feeling well.

At the appointment to verify her identity, she was told a piece of evidence was missing and another appointment needed to be booked.

She was also told they actually didn’t need the first piece of evidence they asked her for.

After four months of applying for UC, Patricia got her first payment. Housing Benefit wasn’t backdated.

For the first time, she is now in 6 months in rent arrears. On UC, she isn’t getting as much financial support as she used to. She is paying her rent arrears with her benefits.

As a result, it is more difficult for her to pay other bills, which is having a negative impact on her mental health.

As Patricia’s experience shows, Universal Credit creates more problems for the most vulnerable citizen.

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