River Rose’s deductions are linked to an advance loan she took out when she first signed up with Universal Credit and child tax credit overpayments – but campaigners say the automatic deductions should be suspended during the cost-of-living crisis
(Image: River Olivia Rose)
Millions of people are being automatically deducted from their benefits to pay off debts under a DWP rule that persists despite the cost-of-living crisis leaving people unable to afford to live.
River Olivia Rose, 41, from Leeds has been claiming Universal Credit for 18 months.
Her allowance was supposed to be £324.84 a month, however she never received that full amount due to deductions. Instead, she is paid between £90 and £260 – an amount that fluctuates each month.
The money is linked to an advance loan that River took out when she first signed up for the six-in-one benefit to cover the five-week wait for her first payment, as well as overpayments on child tax credits and a fine that she received for sleeping in her car while homeless.
“I’ve only got 143 pounds to live on this month,” River told The Mirror.
“The DWP claim I owe £3,000 in total but I have no idea where they got this information from. I have asked it so many times but have been told they cannot discuss it over the phone.
“The deductions just appear in my online diary extract.
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“I called them to say I couldn’t afford it, but they decided to take it anyway.”
River, a charity volunteer, said she borrows money from friends and family members who are already struggling to make ends meet themselves.
“Deductions don’t help me get a job and really affect my mental health,” she said.
“I go everywhere because I can’t afford the travel expenses, I’m exhausted.
“I’m lucky if I eat two or three meals a week.
Today she walked two hours to get to a library to get sanitary pads because she can’t afford to buy them.
“I’ve lost so much weight that I can fit into children’s clothes. I use chalkboards, but you can only use the chalkboards three times a year. I can use it again this year.”
River is set to start a new job in the coming months.
But even then, she says she’s caught in a Catch 22.
“I know I have a job, but I’m scared. I am very concerned about where this cost of living crisis is going.”
As the cost of living soars, the DWP continues to drain money from 2 million people, according to figures in a report released today by the Lloyds Bank Foundation.
The charity is calling for an immediate review of automatic deductions to help those most in need during the cost of living crisis.
The Drivers of Poverty report says the deductions are confusing and unwieldy, forcing people into distress, often through no fault of their own.
Deductions are payments that DWP may automatically collect from benefit payments to pay debts to the government on loans such as prepayments, errors and historical overpayments of benefits, and some debts to third parties (e.g., utility bills and rent arrears).
Should the deductions be suspended or capped because of the cost of living crisis? Let us know what you think in the comments below
According to the report, almost half (44%) of Universal Credit recipients have money automatically withdrawn, with an average withdrawal of £78 per month.
Research also shows that those with deductions were also about twice as likely to go without food, toiletries, and utilities as those on Universal Credit without deductions.
Before applicants receive Universal Credit, they face a five-week delay without benefits, forcing them to take an advance to cover the cost of essentials.
This is then repaid through deductions in subsequent payments, leaving many trapped in a vicious cycle.
The Lloyds report shows that nearly half (47%) of those referred to a blackboard received reduced benefits due to deductions.
The Lloyds Bank Foundation is calling for an urgent review of how Universal Credit deductions are being handled.
Advance payments should be converted into grants or deductions should be limited to 5%.
It added that all deductions should be subject to an affordability review by a qualified advisor.
Meanwhile, historical “debts” stemming from government mismanagement, particularly for tax credits, should be forgiven.
Paul Street, Chief Executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation: “At a time when the cost of living is soaring, the government itself is making it harder for people by deducting significant sums from benefits, making it even harder for people to over to make ends meet.
“The deduction system is clunky and inappropriate, pushing people deeper into poverty through no fault of their own. Every day, charities see people being deducted from their welfare payments that they don’t understand, without warning, and that don’t take their circumstances into account, resulting in them struggling to pay their bills, no matter how well they budget.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/forced-universal-credit-deductions-left-26924772 'Enforced Universal Credit deductions got me just £143 to live on for a month'