Sunday, 23 Jun 2024

Mum-of-three ‘struggling to pay bills’ after Universal Credit cut

A disabled mum-of-three has shared the stress she feels after her Universal Credit was cut. Michelle Radford said the stress of not being able to provide for her family has made her ill.

Michelle, from Pyle, Wales, said she noticed a problem in March when her money did not appear in her bank account. The 55-year-old said she usually gets between £695 and £795 from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) alongside the cash she earns from her jobs cleaning and supervising on a local school bus. However, she was left unable to pay her bills when no money showed up in her account.

A mum to Tianna, 11, Taylor, 22 and Luke, 17, Michelle said she had no choice but to get a loan out to cover her costs, which she will need to pay back at a later date. She said she was informed by the DWP that her money didn’t show up because her claim was sanctioned as she did not correctly complete a form. She called out the system for being difficult to use particularly for the elderly and people diagnosed with certain conditions.

Describing how she discovered her sanction, she told WalesOnline: “I ring up every month about my earnings. When I rang up last month they told me my claim had been closed. I went down to the job centre and I was told it was because of either something I had done wrong or something on their end went wrong. They said later it was because I didn’t fill in the ‘to-do list’ properly and they sanctioned the whole lot.”

The things people need to complete while claiming Universal Credit are set out in a to-do list on their online account. These can be things you need to do to complete your claim, or things that you have agreed to do as part of your claim.

Although Michelle used to work 30 hours, in the summer she dropped her hours to 20 because she suffers severe pain from arthritis in both hips. As part of her to-do list, she needs to show she is looking to find 25 hours of work in order to make a claim. She said she understands that this is what she failed to fill in.

She said: “I haven’t got a clue how to do it. I’m in so much pain and constantly worrying about the cost of living, when my next bill is going out and whether I will have food in my kitchen – and then I have this to do and nothing is sinking in. I posted this on social media and I had a number of people saying they have also struggled with this issue.

“Some of them are in their 60s and haven’t been brought up with technology. I have a friend who can’t even get on Facebook, let alone fill an online form like this in. I have usually got to ask my son and he fills it in for me and he tries to show me how, but it doesn’t sink in. It would be so much better if they scrapped the to-do list and made it so you can complete it over the phone.”

Michelle said without her Universal Credit payment, she was pretty much left with nothing. Her cleaning job money goes on food for the month, while her bus job stops completely in the school holidays. Instead, she completes courses at the job centre aimed to help her find more work. She said: “It’s Easter half-term and I just have £10 [of my own money] left in my bank account. My eldest son works and gives me a bit for the bills, but I want him to keep his money.”

Diagnosed with arthritis five years ago, Michelle said she previously tried to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This gives financial relief to people living with a long-term physical or mental health condition. However, she said she was previously unsuccessful in her claim and is currently making a new application.

Michelle said she feels like she is in a grey area since she was not eligible for PIP, but also struggles to work the ideal 25 hours for her Universal Credit claim.

She said: “I was working in a school kitchen but I had to drop it in July because I physically couldn’t do it anymore. I was doing 30 hours and now the pain is creeping up in my 20 hours. My daughter is only 11 and she has to help me with a lot of things now, like getting me in and out of the bath, getting dressed and cutting my toenails.

“When I’m doing my cleaning job, I have to do a bit then sit down before I can do some more again. If you have a disability you shouldn’t be made to look for more work than you can physically do – and who would take me on for just five hours of work? The situation has absolutely drained me. I am not sleeping at night and it is making me ill.”

Michelle said she has been referred to see a consultant about the possibility of a double hip replacement to get her life back on track. However, she said she is not hopeful that this will happen any time soon because of NHS waiting times. She said she has always been an active and independent working person and the thought of her current situation often brings her to tears.

“I have been waiting nearly a year to see a consultant and I break down crying to my doctor,” she said. “He said he would write to the consultant again, but said he doesn’t know how long it will take. I am fit as a fiddle besides my hips, if I had new hips it would give me a far better quality of life. I could get out and work full-time and put more money into the country.

“I have worked hard all my life and hate the way I am. I can’t do half of what I love doing – such as gardening – I have no life any more and I am in pain every day. I used to be such a happy full-of-life person, but I’m not that woman any more and I want me back so much.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “A claimant commitment was created for Ms Radford on February 16 outlining her work responsibilities and she was warned that her claim would be closed if she did not accept the commitment. A subsequent reminder was sent to Ms Radford and she was given an extension due to her circumstances but she failed to accept it by March 14 and her claim was closed. Customers always have the option of contacting the Service Centre by phone and people are only sanctioned if they fail, without good reason, to meet the conditions they agree, and emphasis is placed on protecting vulnerable claimants.”

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