Ciaran in Yorkshire could scarcely believe how difficult the system was
I had been in jail for a time and when I came out I had to sign on to Jobseeker’s Allowance, and they were paying me fortnightly.
I then got re-housed by the council and when I changed address, in November 2017, that meant me switching to Universal Credit.
Straight away, I would have to wait six weeks for a payment. I managed to get an advance from the DWP of £200 but I even had to wait for that, and that didn’t last any time at all because I was just moving into my flat and I had nothing. In the end, my first payment was after 10 weeks.
I contacted a local charity called Fusion and they suggested I come here, to The Welcome Centre in Huddersfield, and I ended up using the food bank. That was right around and through Christmas 2017 and I didn’t get a payment until January.
I soon realised I wasn’t being paid fortnightly anymore and I was really struggling. I had just moved into a flat and I had to get a cooker and a washer. I had no cooking facilities, and it didn’t even have gas and electricity at first. I had to get the storage heaters all fixed, but then it was costing £5 a night just to run them, so I turned them off.
My situation is still diabolical. I’ve been paying back the advance I got at a rate of £50 a month, so this is the first month I’ve not had that deduction. I get £317 a month, but I pay out £50 a month on gas and electricity, £40 a month on water, £33 on council tax, £24.50 on my TV licence and £61.39 a week on rent. So I can’t afford a contract phone, and have to just use pay as you go, as you need to have a phone to access your Universal Credit account.
I had to use the food bank once a week for eight weeks. The flat I had been moved into had 27 leaks in it and was badly damaged, so the council moved me into B&B accommodation, and that move counted as another change in circumstances, then when they put me in my new flat that was counted as yet another change in circumstances, so delayed my first payment, which meant I fell into £240 rent arrears.
Universal Credit is a very complicated system to learn. They separate the council and the DWP from each other, and you have to work out what’s happening with your rent. It’s like trying to walk through one of those huge garden mazes, you don’t know which corner will take you down a blind alley. It’s nigh on impossible to figure out. There’s not enough support, and for those people who have poor English it’s even worse. I have run my own business before, and there were fewer hurdles there than in this system.
I’m trying to find work, but it’s difficult when you’re coming from a prison sentence. I had planned to come out, get into my flat and find my feet. But finding my feet has been like having to try on every pair of shoes in a shop, but none of them fitting. I was amazed how difficult it was. The incompetence and lack of communication between different parties was huge. It turned out that at one time, they had set up two Universal Credit accounts for me, so were paying into one but billing from the other, meaning I was in credit and in arrears at once. I was getting eviction notices and it took six weeks to resolve that.
When I went to the council, they want to help but nobody had any experience of Universal Credit there either. I had no facilities whatsoever. No bed, no decoration in the flat, no furniture, and I would have been living on hot water and Pot Noodles had it not been for this place.
The system seems to make you apply or everything, get knocked back, then win it on appeal.
I would like to see Theresa May or other politicians to try to move into my flat and survive on £317 a month while paying back money. To understand a person, stand in their shoes. I tell you, there’s a bridge at the bottom of this town that has less leaks and less mould than my flat.
The Welcome Centre isn’t called lifeline, but that’s what it has been for me, it has absolutely been my lifeline. If it had not been here, I’d have had to go begging.
I always turn up for my appointments, I do what’s asked of me, I do all the job searches they ask and I’ve never been sanctioned but despite my best efforts, I am still in this mess and ended up two months in arrears.
I’m nine months into Universal Credit and still not satisfied. They want 36 hours’ a week job searching, and I do that but you soon run out of options for work in a town here. I go to Fusion’s jobfinders’ club and that helps, and counts towards your hours but I do worry I could be sanctioned one day if I make a mistake.
The bigger picture
Ciaran is not alone in finding that Universal Credit is not working as it should.
The End Hunger UK campaign has pointed out a number of ways that Universal Credit can and should be fixed.
To help Fix Universal Credit, you can sign or download our petition here.