HALF of Brits on Universal Credit have fallen behind on their rent after waiting up to five-weeks for their first payment.
The damning figures from Citizens Advice show how applying to the Government's flagship benefits scheme is actually pushing vulnerable people into poverty and causing them to rack up debts.
When claimants apply for Universal Credit their existing benefits are stopped – but they have to wait up to five weeks before getting their first Universal Credit payment.
Last year, the Government cut the wait-time down from six weeks but the same number of households are still in rent arrears, reports Citizens Advice.
It adds that one in six people are still not being paid on time.
The Sun is calling on the Government to slash the waiting-time for first payment of UC to two weeks as part of our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
'We’re being evicted after Universal Credit delay left us broke'
When the couple moved onto the new benefit system in September their £561 a month benefits were immediately stopped, leaving them unable to pay their rent.
The Peterborough couple, who’ve been living in their current home for a year now, claim they have nowhere else to go if they are evicted and will have to be put in temporary accommodation, at a cost of £300 a week to the city council.
"It's a disgusting situation to be in because you know it's going to happen but you're absolutely powerless to do anything about it," Amanda told The Sun.
"This is our home, we've made memories here and now it could be take away from us.
"We have no savings, no one to fall back on and we struggle to be able to afford the rent now that we’re in debt.
"If we're are relocated to a completely different area then Brian will have to give up his job but I thought the whole point of Universal Credit was to get people into work? It makes no sense."
A DWP spokesperson said that the scheme works for the "vast majority of people".
They added: "Universal Credit reduces gradually as people’s income increases, which means they’re always better off in work."
In October last year, Citizens Advice was handed £39million by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to support claimants with their application to make sure they get their first payment on time.
But since then, the charity has found that 60 per cent of people it helps are still taking out advance loans to cover costs while they wait.
Claimants can borrow up to 100 per cent of their estimated payment interest free, but they will have to pay it back in instalments which are automatically deducted from their monthly payments.
The charity said that debt problems are more common for those who claim Universal Credit than those who are on the old system.
Citizens Advice also found that almost half of claimants have no money left after essential living costs, such as food, housing and transport.
'I quit my flat to live in a caravan after Universal Credit delay left me penniless'
Just six months ago, the 42-year-old had a £1,500-a-month job as a hotel manager and lived in a one-bedroom flat in Weymouth – until a heart attack forced him onto benefits.
He was forced to quit his job due to his illness, but after waiting four weeks for his first Universal Credit payment he got behind on bills and could no longer afford his £540-a-month rent.
Fearing he would be homeless, Martin, from Stoke-on-Trent, put out an appeal for help on Facebook and a kind samaritan offered him the caravan.
He gratefully accepted the offer and has moved in, even though it has no toilet or bathroom, while he waits for a kidney transplant.
Martin told The Sun: "I was behind on my bills and rent and you have to make choices when you’re on Universal Credit between eating, heating and anything else.
"My landlord was going to evict me and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. I couldn’t afford rent or a deposit on anywhere.
"It’s embarrassing living like this, its degrading. I feel like I'm not worth anything to anyone.
"I’ve worked hard my entire life, I didn’t ask to be in this situation and I just feel utterly abandoned."
He has spent the last four months staying on £12 a night caravan sites where his electricity is included and he can use on-site showers and toilets.
Martin has looked into moving into a cheap flat, but he keeps getting rejected by landlords for being on benefits.
He's now trying to fundraise for an improved caravan.
A DWP spokesperson said: "Universal Credit provides a safety net for those who need it and is designed to help people off benefits and into work, because work is the best route out of poverty and the best way to improve your life chances.
"Anyone struggling with housing costs can also apply for discretionary housing payments."
The report, Managing Money on Universal Credit, released today, is based on the 190,000 people on Universal Credit that Citizens Advice has helped.
The charity now wants the Government to make alternative payment arrangements, such as having housing costs paid directly to claimant's landlords or getting paid weekly rather than monthly to ease the financial burden.
Are you on Universal Credit? Tell us your story. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and join our Universal Credit Facebook group.
So far, just three per cent of people claiming the benefit are being paid more frequently than under the old benefits system.
Gillian Guy, from Citizens Advice, said: "Half the people we help with a Universal Credit claim are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads while they wait for their first payment.
The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work
One million people are already receiving it and by the time the system is fully rolled out in 2023, nearly 7 million will be on it.
But there are big problems with the flagship new system – it takes 5 weeks to get the first payment and it could leave some families worse off by thousands of pounds a year.
And while working families can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, they must find the money to pay for childcare upfront – we’ve heard of families waiting up to 6 months for the money.
Working parents across the country told us they’ve been unable to take on more hours – or have even turned down better paid jobs or more hours because of the amount they get their benefits cut.
It’s time to Make Universal Credit work. We want the government to:
- Get paid faster: The Government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop 7 million from being pushed into debt.
- Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
- Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85 per cent of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.
Together, these changes will help Make Universal Credit Work.
Join our Universal Credit Facebook group or email UniversalCredit@the-sun.co.uk to share your story.
"Changes to the waiting period for first payments have improved things for many people, but our evidence shows they don't go far enough.
"Universal Credit must continue to be reformed so it works for all claimants and leaves people with enough money to live on."
A DWP spokesperson said: "Most people on Universal Credit are happy managing their money, but budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.
"Many people join Universal Credit with existing rent arrears, but this falls by a third after four months.
"We will continue to work closely with Citizen’s Advice and other stakeholders to develop our approach in order to provide the best possible support for all of our claimants."
Since launching in 2013, Universal Credit has been riddled with issues, so The Sun is campaigning for change.
The wages of working families are also hit hard by the taper rate which deducts 63p from your benefits payment for every £1 you earn over the £198 work allowance – we want this dropped to 50p.
Parents trying to get back into work are entitled to claim up to 85 per cent of childcare costs but will only get the cash back in arrears – but we want the welfare state to fund these costs upfront.
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