A High Peak benefit claimant has revealed how he was left ‘in a very dark place’ by missed Universal Credit payments which made him unable to pay his rent.
Jim - not his real name - who is aged in his 30s, said the financial difficulties he suffered drove him to contemplate suicide.
After several years of anxiety and unemployment Jim joined the Zink Project, which organises the High Peak Foodbank and job training.
He underwent a successful work trial and was offered a part-time contract after the first day. He said: “I was over the moon and couldn’t stop smiling.”
As he was on Universal Credit, he informed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit centre of his start date and in July received a letter telling him he must inform DWP about the amount he would be earning and the hours he would be working.
Jim called into the Jobcentre with his contract to show his weekly working hours and rate of pay. His benefits should have reduced to take into account his earnings, but he was still entitled to a claim because he wasn’t earning enough to live on.
At the end of August the DWP stopped all Jim’s benefits, meaning he could not pay his rent. The DWP said it required the details of hours of work and rate of pay to be given over the phone, rather than in writing. He spoke to the DWP but was told he had to appeal and make a new claim.
Citizens Advice spent four hours helping Jim write an appeal as he owed nearly £1,000 on his rent. He said: “The situation got too much for me and I shut myself away, turned my phone off and was at one point considering suicide.”
It was only because his employer went looking for him when he did not turn up for work that he ventured out.
High Peak Foodbank is now helping him with food parcels and trying to resolve his payment problems.
Paul Bohan, from the Zink Project, said: “Jim was in a terrible situation. He had taken the first steps towards independence from benefits and got himself a job. His confidence improved but he was still reliant on Universal Credit. When it was stopped he felt hopeless and nearly lost his job.
“It was the generosity of the people of Buxton, giving to the foodbank and his employer, that enabled him to see there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
People in High Peak making new claims or substantially changing their claim for most major benefits will instead have to claim Universal Credit. These include: Tax Credits; Income Support; Jobseekers Allowance; Housing Benefit and Employment Support Allowance.
Minister for Employment Alok Sharma said: “More people in Buxton and Glossop, including families and disabled people, can claim Universal Credit and access the extra help it provides.”
A £1.5bn package of improvements for people moving onto Universal Credit was announced in the government’s Budget. People applying can now receive a 100 per cent advance on their first payment and the seven-day waiting period for new claimants was removed earlier this year, says the DWP.