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Great Britain

Five-week wait for Universal Credit ‘leaves people relying on food banks up to TWO YEARS after they applied for benefits’

CASH-strapped Brits are relying on food banks up to two years after they applied for Universal Credit, a charity has claimed.

Trussell Trust saw a 48 per cent jump in the number of households relying on the handouts in areas where Universal Credit had been around for at least two years.

It blames the five week wait people are forced to endure before getting their first payment when they apply for the scheme.

During this time, existing benefits are also stopped pushing many households into hardship, leaving them without any income to pay the bills.

The Sun's Make Universal Credit Work campaign is calling for the wait time to be reduced to two weeks to help parents who are being forced to rely on food banks.

Like Sam Evans, 39, who found herself at a food bank after she was made redundant from her call centre job.

And like Lynne and Richard Williams who lived off tinned carrots and meatballs from the food bank after being rolled onto the system.

Through data collected from more than 60,000 referral agencies, the charity found that the number of households turning to them to put food on the table increased the longer Universal Credit had been implemented in an particular area.

Places where the scheme had been around for a year saw a 30 per cent jump in the number of people using the service, and 40 per cent rise in places where it had been around for 18 months.

When you submit a claim, you are entitled to take out the full amount as an advance payment to get them through the waiting period.

But this is actually a loan that has to be paid back through deductions from the monthly payments, starting with the first.

The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work

Universal Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment

Universal Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment. 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% 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
  3. 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.

And as benefit payments are calculated based on someone's income and outgoings, this often leaves people regularly short of cash.

Like The Sun, the charity is calling for the wait time to be reduced to stop families falling further into poverty.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: "Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty but the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution."

She added: "We can do better than this as a country, and we must.

"We can protect each other from needing food banks – but if we’re to do that, our government needs to be open to hearing when policies aren’t working for people."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "This report uses unrepresentative data to reach an entirely unsubstantiated conclusion.

"It categorically does not prove that Universal Credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage.

"With Universal Credit people can get paid urgently if they need it and we’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system."

Housing association Riverside also found that millions on Universal Credit have been pushed into using food banks because of the five-week wait.

If you're struggling to make your benefits stretch to cover the bills then here are a few ways that you can get extra cash.

You could also be missing out on much-needed cash if you aren't on the right benefits, so make sure you check what you're entitled to.

What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit

IF you're experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don't cover costs, here are your options:

Apply for an advance - Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit pay out.

Alternative Payment Arrangements - If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.

Budgeting Advance - You may be able to get help from the government to help with emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.

Cut your Council Tax - You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your payments aren't enough to cover your rent.

Foodbanks - If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.

Struggling mum tries to feed family with £1.80 a day after 7-week Universal Credit delay left her skint

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