Benefit deductions 'driving claimants to destitution'

The i - 24 May 2018

Benefit claimants are being driven into destitution after facing large unexpected deductions from their Universal Credit (UC) payments, the Government has been warned.

Former minister Frank Field spoke of his alarm that multiple problems with the roll-out of the new benefits regime were driving recipients to use food banks.

His intervention came ahead of a national day of action organised by the union Unite calling for the Government to abandon the implementation of UC, which replaces six benefits with one payment.

Critics say it has left claimants facing hardship because of the sanctions they face and the complexity of the new system.

Unite spokesman Liane Groves said UC was "creating a hostile environment for people who claim it".

Mr Field said a key cause of penury in his Birkenhead constituency was recipients being hit by surprise deductions relating to previous loans and tax credit and housing benefit overpayments. "Some people do not remember that they had these historic debts and will often have accrued them through no fault of their own. Nor do they seem to be informed in advance that the deductions will be made," he said in a letter to Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

Mr Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, told i that examples in his constituency included a man in his fifties who was plunged into rent arrears - and left without enough cash for food or fuel - when nearly £200 was deducted from his £300 monthly payment. A young woman was forced to go to a food bank after she lost £60, which was almost a third of her payment.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "There are safeguards in place to protect claimants from large deductions being taken at one time and that could cause hardship.

"Budgeting support is available to help people manage their money and people can ask for a reduction in deductions for benefit debts if they are experiencing financial difficulty."

Nigel Morris, The i