By now, everyone in the benefit system is aware of the ever impending switch to Universal Credit. A scheme that was hailed as simple, and useful for both the benefit offices, and the people claiming. This was because Universal Credit replaces all of the other benefits, excluding child benefit. So, your Jobseekers/employment and support and your housing benefit, and your tax credit award all get paid in one monthly payment. In theory, this means that the bulk of your entitlement comes from one office, one department, meaning there is less room for crossed wires between departments. It also means that people on benefits learn, and get used to, budgeting a monthly income. Simple, Right?

Well, no. It’s not. You see, Universal Credit takes a minimum 6 weeks to be approved. And once you have applied, all of your benefits stop. (Excluding child benefit as that is a separate payment.) This means that for 6 weeks you have no income (or close to no income.)

Honestly, it’s a pretty terrifying existence. After the DWP’s ‘expert’ fit for work assessment, my husband was signed off his employment and support benefit despite having a current sick note from his actual G.P. We were told to apply for Universal Credit.

After our initial interview – not really much of an interview, it’s really just a document drop off – we were advised to call for an advance, because we have 2 small mouths to feed. A universal credit advance will pay you half of your monthly entitlement, to get you through that 6 weeks wait. The deal is you pay it back out of your monthly payments, when they finally start appearing.

So, half of our 4 weekly entitlement just about covered 6 weeks worth of food for all of us (good stuff for the kids, instant noodles for me fairly often) It also managed to cover the gas and electric bill for that month, so that’s not so bad. What is bad, is it had no hope of covering that months rent too. So we started receiving angry red letters, threatening eviction. Even after I called them to inform them that we were waiting on our payments coming through, we still received more eviction threats. This is the hardest part. When you’re hungry, and the advance is all gone, and there’s still no sign of your first payment. Then you are worried about being kicked out of your home, because of a situation your landlord knows about, but their knowing doesn’t make the rent paid.

The only way through is to keep calling them, assuring them the money is coming. If it doesn’t show on the day you were told it would, phone the universal credit helpline (the one thing I honestly love about this new system, is the one number to rule them all. No more multiple calls to 5 different departments.) They will arrange a fast payment. You aren’t being pushy, you’ve waited long enough to be able to eat a proper meal and pay your rent.

Experiencing this system has convinced me that it was set up to keep the poor people poor. It’s designed to make you take out a loan, creating more debt to clear when your money is paid, meaning you have less to live on, and may require more loans, yes, more debt. Don’t fall for it, look around your local area for schemes set up to help you. They exist, they just don’t tell you. There are food banks if you’re desperate. Some organisations can give interest free welfare loans too. Check social media free sites for opportunity to find things you need for free, and most importantly of all, know that you aren’t alone.

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