UNIVERSAL Credit supplies a lifeline to millions of people who rely on the benefit to help them through the cost of living.
But if you fall foul of any common mistakes you could see your monthly payments reduced – or even stopped.
Inflation has hit 10.1% and the rising cost of everyday essentials such as food and fuel is soaring means millions are struggling.
So it's important to know how or why your Universal Credit might have been docked or stopped completely.
Anna Stevenson, benefits expert at charity Turn2Us and part of The Sun's Squeeze Team, has revealed five situations where your payments might be reduced or stopped and what to do about it.
You're not keeping an eye on your account
You apply to get Universal Credit online and by setting up an account.
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On that account, you can report a change in your circumstances, see when your next payment will be, and apply for an advance on your first payment.
You also receive notifications on there, which might tell you to attend an appointment with a work coach.
But Anna said if you don't pick up the notifications on your account, you may be sanctioned.
This means your monthly payments will be reduced. The extent of the reduction varies depending on the severity of your sanction.
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Anna said: "You need to be logging into your journal a couple of times a week.
"If you're not checking regularly, you're likely to miss an appointment."
On top of this, Anna said it's worth checking your journal regularly because if Universal Credit need more information from you to make a payment, they will send you a message on your journal.
She said: "For some of those things, if Universal Credit don't get that information, you won't get your payment."
Your benefit grace period has finished
When you first start claiming Universal Credit you could have a nine month benefit cap grace period if you meet certain criteria.
A benefit cap limits the amount of Universal Credit you might be entitled to.
But sometimes people aren't aware that this grace period finishes at all, and don't factor in a drop in their monthly income.
The size of the drop will depend on your circumstances but, Anna said, it can come as a shock to people who get to nine months and they're left out of pocket.
She said: "Plan for it. "If you know that you're going to be affected, there is help through discretionary housing payments, so if you're going to affected it might be worth making an application.
"Or look at other ways at lifting the cap, such as moving into work or claiming a carers or disability benefit."
You've not prepared ahead if you get your salary weekly or fortnightly
Universal Credit is paid monthly to claimants.
But because the benefit is assessed monthly, it can mean those receiving their salaries weekly or fortnightly may get a reduced payment.
This typically occurs where there are five weeks in a month, so it looks like your income has gone up because you've received more salary payments.
To the Universal Credit system, it might look like you've earned more, which can mean your payment is reduced as a result – and it can't be amended once its gone through.
Anna said to stop yourself from struggling in a month of reduced Universal Credit, it's crucial to plan ahead.
She said: "You need to plan in advance which month is going to be affected and save up."
You forgot about debt deductions
If you're in debt, it can mean you're given less Universal Credit.
Anna said not a lot of people are aware of this, so such deductions can come as a shock.
But you can also get these deductions reduced if you call up the Universal Credit helpline.
If your debt is related to Universal Credit advances, budgeting advances, rent or council tax arrears, or gas, electricity or water debts, you need to call the helpline on 0800 328 5644.
You can also leave a message on your online journal.
If your debt is related to budgeting loans, hardship payments, overpayments of benefits and tax credits you can call the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on 0800 916 0647.
You didn't know your child leaving education meant lower payments
In September, Universal Credit claimants whose children are leaving post-16 education will see their payments drop off.
This is because you get more money through the system if you have children.
Anna said it was worth checking to see how this would affect your benefits.
She said: "In some circumstances it can lead to it coming down more than you can expect.
"If it's your only child, or last child on your claim, you don't just lose the child element you also lose the work allowance as well."
She added: "What people get is a September payment which is much lower than usual.
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"So the best advice is to budget for it and plan for it.
"Use a benefit calculator to figure out what your benefits will be once that child is not on your claim anymore."
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