A 'fundamental flaw' in Universal Credit could force claimants to get through Christmas with little or no benefits.
Designed to 'make work pay', controversial Universal Credit tops up salaries for those on low incomes, as well as supporting people who are out of work.
But those who get paid early at Christmas time might end up missing out, Belfast Live reports.
The problem comes for many people who are usually paid at the end of the month, but get their wages early in December because of the holidays. If you've claimed two pay packets within a month of each other, the system may view you as having been paid more than usual, and therefore no longer being entitled to your usual help.
Bob Stronge, Advice NI chief executive, said: “Government says that it’s all about work, making work pay and that Universal Credit will help make sure people are better off in work.
"However we are highlighting a fundamental flaw which could inflict hardship on claimants and undermine public confidence in Universal Credit.
"For example if someone receives their monthly wage on the last Friday of each month then they will have been paid on November 29 and ought to be paid on December 27. However many people will be paid early for Christmas, some as early as December 20.
" Universal Credit assessment periods run for a calendar month, so for example if a UC claimant has an assessment period which runs from 25 to the 24, they will in fact find that they have received two monthly wages in this assessment period (29 November & 20 December) and so may receive little or no Universal Credit at Christmas."
The problem doesn't need to wipe out your Universal Credit claim: HMRC provide the monthly salary information to Universal Credit and it is possible for employers to report your payment as coming on the usual date, even if it's actually paid in early. However Advice NI say they are concerned that neither employers nor employees are fully aware that HMRC allows this.
But benefits bosses have denied that there's a flaw.
A Government spokesperson told Belfast Live: "Universal Credit is paid twice monthly in arrears, and is calculated using assessment periods.
"An assessment period is a period of one month and any income received within that month is used in the calculation of a customer’s Universal Credit entitlement.
"Where two sets of earnings are received in one month a customer will receive less benefit to reflect this.
"However, customers will then receive an increase in Universal Credit in those months where no earnings are received.
"This is not a system flaw and is part of the design and build of Universal Credit."
So they would get the cash back - but potentially after Christmas, leaving people still missing out over the festive period.