A WOMAN on Universal Credit says she's been left with nothing in her bank account and can't afford to buy food because of 'mystery' deductions from her payments.
River Olivia Rose has been told her income is reduced to pay back a previous overpayment of benefits totalling £2,000.
The Department of Works and Pensions deducts the debt from here Universal Credit payments each month.
The former makeup artist told Channel 4 news that she was transferred onto Universal Credit from the old benefits system.
She was later told she had been overpaid by thousands of pounds – but claims she has never had any more about the debt explained to her.
River’s entitled to around £850 a month with her Universal Credit payment. The DWP automatically takes £80 as a debt deduction.
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After paying £500 in rent, River says she is barely able to survive on the remaining £270.
She told Channel 4 News: "I've learnt to eat as little as possible. I've lost a lot of weight but you just learn to not rely on too much."
River explained if she was in debt with another company it would be explained to her and a reasonable adjustment would be made.
However, this isn’t the case with the Government, she claims.
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"The only debt that I'm in is the debt that the DWP have told me that I'm in and yet they can't explain why or where it's from." River said
"If I was in debt with anybody else, whether it be TV licensing or a loan, it would be explained to me and a reasonable adjustment in my payments would be acceptable.
"But when it comes to the Government taking it straight out of your benefits, there's no explanation and it's not a reasonable amount."
"How can you say that the poorest people in the country should have these huge deductions taken out of their benefits. They're already living on the breadline.
According to the Department of Work and Pensions during the financial year ending in 2022, overpayments amounted to £8.6bn.
The charity StepChange has called for a pause to Universal Credit deductions to help struggling households.
Richard Lane, head of external comms at the charity, said: “StepChange clients on Universal Credit are set to face an average monthly budget deficit of £77 come October even with Government support.
"The average deduction for advances and overpayments is around £50 a month.
"Suspending deductions doesn’t require legislation, and could be implemented quickly.”
A spokesperson for the Government told the programme it has already lowered the maximum amount for debt deductions twice and helped millions of families with an extra £1,200 a year.
What happens if I'm asked to repay benefits?
If you are asked to make a repayment, this will be done in different ways, Turn2Us says:
- Making deductions from your benefit payments
- Taking it out of benefits that are owed to you
- Taking amounts directly out of your wages
- Getting a court order for debt recovery
- The amount taken will be dependenton how much you owe and if you're still receiving benefits.
You can ask the DWP to reduce the amount you are paying back each month.
The DWP can take you to court if you don't repay.
If you can't afford to repay you can ask Citizen's Advice for help.
If you don't think you've been overpaid and the request for repayment is an error, you can ask for the DWP to look at it again.
Turn2Us says a letter about over payments should include the following information:
- How much you were overpaid each week
- For what period you were overpaid
- The total that has been overpaid
You can get advice and support for appealing a decision for free from organisations like Citizens Advice and Benefits and Work.
You should keep your contact details up to date so the DWP can get hold of you and you don't miss any demands.
It's also important to respond to any calls or emails from the DWP as soon as possible, or there's a risk your benefit payments could be stopped or changed.
Citizen's Advice benefits expert Lawrence Barratt previously told The Sun: “If you applied for Universal Credit in the early stages of the pandemic then the DWP may contact you for some additional information to support your claim."
If you're struggling with payments you may be entitled to help with the Household Support Fund. You can read more about it here.
Half a million people have had their benefits payments cut due to tax credit overpayments. You can find out more about it here.
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