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Life on universal credit: ‘The stress is overwhelming’

Benefits error left man facing a month without a payment as bills came in

09 November, 2018 — By Emily Finch and Samantha Booth

A UNIVERSAL credit claimant who was incorrectly told he is not entitled to any money this month has said he is struggling to get by because of the error.

Lawrence, 53, who did not wish to give his surname, was told earlier this week he would get no money under the new benefits set-up despite previously receiving £204 every two weeks under the old system.

He is a part of a growing number of people in Islington – currently around 4,000 – who are being transferred to universal credit, which rolls six “legacy” benefits into one. “The stress and anxiety has been overwhelming,” he said. “My bills are adding up but how am I meant to pay if this isn’t sorted out? I have water bills and food to buy.”

Lawrence is a social entrepreneur who suffered a severe depressive episode a few years ago which meant he was unable to work.

He believes a recent one-off grant to his new business was seen by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as his regular monthly income. “I called to make sure they knew it was a one-off grant,” he said. “It just feels they aren’t listening and it’s all automated with no one checking or caring.”

Lawrence went to an appointment at his local Jobcentre in Barnsbury on Wednesday to plead his case. “I’d just had an operation so I was already stressed because of that,” he said. “At the Jobcentre I handed over all my bank statements. It felt I had to prove I wasn’t a liar.”

Lawrence estimates he will lose £130 a month under universal credit compared with his previous benefits.

As reported in the Tribune last week, Isling­ton Council estimates 44 per cent of households will be worse off.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “Universal credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment. We have just announced that we will be increasing the amount people can earn on universal credit by £1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays, and introduced £1billion to help people moving over from the old benefits system to universal credit.”

She added: “This is on top of the improvements we have already made – advances have increased to 100 per cent, the seven-day waiting period has been removed and we are paying housing benefit for an additional two weeks when people move onto universal credit.”

Cancer survivor ‘felt penalised’

A YOUNG cancer survivor has said the universal credit system has made him feel penalised for being unwell.

Neil MacVicar, who lives in Highbury, experienced severe dizziness and slurred speech in 2016.

Weeks later, a cancer­ous tumour the size of a plum was removed from his brain. While recovering at home with his parents in Scotland, he had to apply for universal credit, which replaces most benefits and has a five-week delay before the first payment.

The 27-year-old said: “After my treatment I went to the Jobcentre to apply for universal credit. I had to sit in front of the computer for six hours to fill the whole form in. It was embarrassing. You feel like you’re being penalised for being un­well.”

The former bar man­ager, who lives in Sotheby Road, added: “I am terr­ified that this may happen to someone who does not have the support I have. “I am incredibly angry with this horrible system. This whole experience has left me feeling totally abandoned, depressed and anxious.” Charity Macmillan Can­cer Support has urged the government to address issues with the new system.

Neil MacVicar: ‘I am incredibly angry with this horrible system’

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said it has partnered with Citizens Advice to help vulnerable claimants.

He added: “We can reschedule appointments, support people to claim online or arrange home or hospital visits, if people make us aware that they are unwell. We’re committed to ensuring people with health conditions get the support they’re entitled to.”

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