Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Universal Credit: Robert's story*

March 01 2019

* Not real name

“I gave up working to care for my mum. After she died, I signed on and got Jobseekers’ Allowance. It was round about the beginning of March 2018, when I noticed by letter that my benefits would cease in April.

It turns out this should never have happened – Universal Credit is only for new claims at the moment. But I didn’t know that, and the Jobcentre has never admitted that.

In April, I went to the Jobcentre and told that woman at the desk that I would like to apply for Universal Credit. She explained I’d have to apply online. I asked her if I could do it over the phone and she said “no”. I was gutted and did not know what to do.

I went to the Lodging House Mission day centre and asked for Angela, the advice worker. She calmed me down and said not to worry. She went out of her way, and used her email address and mobile to get me signed up for an appointment.

At the appointment a woman interviewed me and said she would be my worker. She informed me that I had to make several commitments and if I did not fulfil them or go for the job interviews they sent me to, I would be sanctioned. She took all my details and passed them to a colleague who set me up with an email address, as I had explained I was using someone else’s.
I was told I would not receive any money for about six to eight weeks. But I could apply for an advance, which they would deduct from my benefit over several months. During the period that I was waiting for my first payment, I received letters threatening to take me to court as my rent had not been paid and I was in arrears. I’d asked them to pay my rent direct, and was told they couldn’t.

The day I received my first payment it was only £550. I went into total panic. I had to pay my rent, which was £380, arrears for the last seven weeks, plus next month’s gas and electric and feed myself. I could not sleep with worry.

A lovely lady at the housing association told me a lot more than my Jobcentre worker. She explained that I could apply for a discretionary payment to cover the rent shortfall. That had never been explained to me. She also advised me that after that first payment I could apply to get my rent paid direct, another thing I hadn’t been told. I felt more at ease.

Two weeks later I had to go back to the Jobcentre for an interview to discuss what I had been doing to find work. I was then told I had to go to the council’s computer hub on a Monday and the library on a Wednesday and a Friday. If I did not attend I would be sanctioned. I was to spend 35 hours a week seeking employment or I could lose my benefit. I thought the worker was there to help me. But all she did was threaten me.

Now I am no longer living a life. I am surviving, and the only reason for that is charities where I can go and get myself a meal. I go to chapels, to the Salvation Army and to other food banks that provide me help. Otherwise I would have to steal or rob from shops just so I could eat. I am living the dream.