A Worthing mother, whose partner and son both have additional needs, has described relying on foodbanks while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment as ‘traumatic’.
Lynn Green said the transition onto the new benefits system was an ‘absolute headache’ which left her and her family ‘struggling’.
The 51-year-old became eligible for Universal Credit after she moved from Lancing to East Worthing in August.
Finding a new home after her landlord decided to sell up had been a stressful process in itself, Lynn said, adding: “No landlord wants to take anyone on benefits.”
Eventually the council helped her find a place, and although her new £1,000-a-month rent pushed Lynn to the limit financially, she did not dare refuse the offer.
Lynn’s partner, Pete, who is epileptic, diabetic and has learning needs, and her 11-year-old son Kacey, who also has learning problems, both struggle with change and found the move difficult.
The family had just started to get their feet off the ground when Lynn received a letter informing her that she had been overpaid in housing benefit and needed to pay £390 back.
Lynn was told she was not entitled to housing benefit since moving and now needed to claim Universal Credit.
“I was in a absolute panic,” she said. “They said I should’ve changed to Universal Credit when I moved. I had never even heard of Universal Credit.”
She was told it was easy to apply online but she said she got ‘stuck’ many times with the application, which she also had to carry out on her partner’s behalf.
“I was so stressed,” she said, adding that she was grateful for the help from staff at Southdown Housing.
With her rent overdue, Lynn was told it would be around five and a half weeks until her Universal Credit payment came through.
She was told she could take out a loan to cover costs in the meantime but Lynn said: “I said I didn’t want one, I said I would struggle to pay it back. How can we repay a loan when we have just what we need to live on?”
In the end she decided to take one out just to cover her rent, which left her struggling with other costs.
“At this point I wasn’t sleeping,” she said. “There were figures going through my head, how am I going to pay for this and that?”
She praised the support she got from Community House in Dominion Road, which provided free children’s sessions, fresh fruit and vegetables and advice.
“I don’t know where I would have been without them, they’ve been absolutely amazing,” she said.
Lynn also had to make use of the foodbank in Worthing, of which she said: “It was the most degrading thing I’ve ever done.
“To sit there and get handouts, I felt like I was something on the bottom of someone’s shoe. I felt I had to explain myself.”
Lynn’s first Universal Credit payment eventually came through last week.
“I do believe we are coming out the other side, but we are going to have a tough couple of months catching up,” she said. “We are going to have no Christmas.”
She said the overall experience was ‘traumatic’ and left her unwell and stressed.
But she fears others may struggle even more than she did when the system is fully rolled out.
“I don’t know how anyone with any additional needs would possibly cope,” she said.
“I’ve got my head screwed on and I was a wreck. What about all the other people who can’t do all that?”
While the old style of benefits were paid out weekly or every four weeks, Universal Credit is paid once per calendar month.
“I have to learn a completely different way of budgeting,” Lynn said. “Vulnerable people just won’t be able to do it.
“They are people out there who are really going to struggle.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system that discouraged people moving into work.
“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 £1bn to help people moving over from the old benefits system to Universal Credit.
“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.
“We’re committed to ensuring people get the support they need and the latest figures show 83 per cent of Universal Credit claimants are satisfied with the system.
“Free WIFI and computers are in all jobcentres for claimants to use.
“We have also recently announced a partnership with Citizens Advice to provide Universal Support which includes a focus on digital support.”