A mum of two claims she is having to walk a 13-mile round-trip to work every day after she was left with just £2.60 to feed her children for two weeks.
Kirsty Minott, 31, says a mix-up in her benefit entitlements after returning from maternity leave meant her housing benefit and council tax reduction was stopped.
When attempting to reapply, Kirsty was allegedly told that she would apply for Universal Credit.
The mum, from Bedlington in Northumberland, says this left her with just £2.60 over two weeks to provide food for her children while the new claim was processed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Kirsty claims this has resulted in severe rent arrears, and also that she is forced to walk several miles to work every day because of being unable to afford public transport.
She also says that every spare penny she can find is used to buy food for her children or pay what she can in rent, meaning she has no money left for other household costs or bills.
“I am working until 8pm at night, which means I am walking back late”, she said.
“I normally get the bus. It is £6.80 but I do those hours because it is the only time I can get child care.”
She continued: “If I have to walk, I have to walk. I am going to try and get bus fare but who do I ask?
“It is an extra hour and a half there and back, it is an extra three hours that I have to make sure someone can look after [the children].”
She claims that a decision by the DWP requiring her to return to work following maternity leave was made in “error”.
“I’m having to reapply and got told I had done it wrong”, she said.
“I didn’t get an explanation about what I had done wrong.”
The mum of two says claims working tax credit, child tax credit and child benefit, and was allegedly told by the DWP that they couldn’t reinstate these payments despite the mix-up.
“I was told if you’re housing benefit is cancelled they won’t reinstate it and you have to go onto Universal Credit”, she said.
Commenting on her experience of the Universal Credit system, Kirsty said: “Universal Credit, it’s not helpful. The people you talk to, if you get to talk to someone because they always have to redirect you to a website, are not helpful or you feel like they don’t want to talk.
“It costs money to call people and you don’t have any money. The people who it is hurting are the people like me.
“I’m not begging, I’m just trying to get by. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs I don’t go out partying.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We do not have a record of Ms Minott making a claim for Universal Credit, but the local Citizens Advice ‘Help to Claim’ service will provide the help she needs.
“The Universal Credit phone line is available free of charge and people can get their first payment on day one of their claim, as an advance.”
Welfare Weekly Insight
People tell us that an ‘advance’ claim for Universal Credit, despite being up to 100% of the expected final award, can take several days before it appears in a person’s bank account, in stark contradiction to the claim made by the DWP above.
This also has to be repaid through monthly deductions to a person’s (or household) total Universal Credit entitlement, meaning that many people find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt.
Charities and others argue that this ‘advance’, or loan to be more precise, should not be repayable or that the monthly deductions should be dramatically reduced to prevent vulnerable people from falling in to the hands of high-cost doorstep lenders and loan sharks.