When changes to welfare benefits came to Wales, Caerphilly-based housing association United Welsh began visiting tenants regularly, ensuring everyone understands how changes to Universal Credit can affect them.
As Universal Credit is a ‘six-benefits-in-one’ payment and paid monthly rather than weekly, moving onto UC can be a really difficult time for claimants, particularly those who need to start claiming because they’ve suddenly lost their income.
Emma Burgoyne from Blaenavon found herself in that position in 2018 when she lost her job.
She said: “I had my car taken off me to pay a debt but without it I couldn’t get to work, so I lost my job.
“I contacted the Department for Work and Pensions about benefits but because I was already claiming for Child Tax Credits they said I would have to apply online for Universal Credit. The application was fine because I use the internet regularly, but existing benefit payments are stopped while you wait for your first UC payment and because I still had debts to pay on top of my rent and everything else, I hit rock bottom.”
Emma was left with £426 to live off for seven weeks and as she is originally from Bradford, she couldn’t easily turn to family. She was lucky to have some support from friends and relied heavily on charities.
“The first time I used a foodbank was embarrassing, it was difficult having to rely on other people to feed my daughter. But I couldn’t bury my head in the sand. I accept I’m in debt and I needed help so that’s what I did, and I have received support with payment plans, discretionary payments and getting vouchers for food and clothes.
“The team from United Welsh had already visited me and other tenants last summer to explain changes with Universal Credit and how they might affect us, but because I was working and only claiming Child Tax Credits at the time, I didn’t think much of it.
“The biggest piece of advice I can give is that if you know you’re moving onto UC or even if you’re not sure but might have to, make preparations, because things can happen very quickly. I got my last payment from work at the end of August so stocked up the cupboards and freezer, although food banks were a massive help.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be in that situation but even if Universal Credit is months down the line from coming to your area, put money away each week just in case. It has been horrendous but my daughter has had to come first, and I’m starting to get back on my feet.
“If it wasn’t for support from United Welsh, I don’t know what would have happened.”