The government is snatching money from Universal Credit (UC) claimants with no explanation or warning. And claimants are finding it almost impossible to challenge the robbery.
Trish from Wishaw in North Lanarkshire made a UC claim in July, and has finally found out how much she will be awarded. But she was surprised to find a mysterious deduction has been applied to her money – slashing it by a quarter.
“I logged onto my journal to discover I was awarded something like £409 for the period 29 July to 30 August,” she told Socialist Worker. “A payment of just over £20 was coming off, which was agreed as it is for an advance I got previously.
“But then there was another deduction for £102. This apparently dates back to some overpayment of benefit in 1996.”
Trish was outraged at the fact that, had she not logged onto her account, she wouldn’t have even known about the deduction. She said she can’t think of anything that it could relate to.
“They can’t tell me what it’s for because it’s not on their system,” she said. “They’ve given me four different numbers to ring, and none of them are taking incoming calls.
“The government states that you need so much a week to live on. To then have 25 percent of that deducted at source with no information is farcical.”
Trish has been told that, because the alleged overpayment was made under an older system, no one has any information about it. This makes it impossible to find out if the calculation is wrong – or to challenge it.
Trish hasn’t even been allowed to change the repayments. “They won’t renegotiate the payments because they say they don’t have enough information,” she said.
“I was furious.”
Trish counts herself as one of the lucky ones, as she is currently able to live with her parents. But as she pointed out, many people will be in more vulnerable and desperate situations.
“It’s not a lot of money to live on,” she said. “What if I wasn’t staying with my parents? How would I pay for electricity and rent?
“For some people out there, something like this will just tip them over the edge.”
She added that, because she lives in Scotland, she doesn’t have to pay prescription charges. “If I was paying £9.05 per prescription for medication in England, that’s a further £18.10 per week from the UC allowance.”
And it isn’t possible for people to just not pay for things such as electricity or mobile phones. “You’re supposed to do 35 hours a week of job searching,” said Trish. “So you need access to the internet.
“I’ve heard of people standing outside libraries to login to the library Wi-Fi. People are having to do these kinds of things to fulfil the criteria for their benefits and try to avoid sanctions.”
Trish said that so far she has been “fobbed off with nonsense”. But she added, “I am going to write to my MP and MSP about this. I will keep trying as many numbers as I can and pursue it with other departments.
“I will continue to fight it.”