Why you can’t ‘bury your head in the sand’ when it comes to Universal Credit

South Wales’ housing associations United Welsh and Newydd have been campaigning to prepare people for changes brought by Universal Credit.

Since July 2017, more important changes to welfare benefits have come to Wales, with Universal Credit ‘full service’ launching in communities.

It has meant that some people needing to make a new claim for benefits following a change in their circumstances have had to claim for Universal Credit instead.

United Welsh and Newydd Housing are encouraging people to ‘Be like BOB’ in their campaign to prepare people for Universal Credit.

As Universal Credit is a ‘six-benefits-in-one’ payment and paid monthly rather than weekly, moving onto Universal Credit can be a really difficult time for someone who needs to start claiming because they’ve suddenly lost their income.

38-year-old Emma Burgoyne from Forgeside in Blaenavon found herself in that position last August when she lost her 30-hours-a-week housekeeping job.
Emma’s story

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 DWP 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 your other benefits 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.

The first time I used a foodbank was embarrassing. You think of yourself as a strong woman who hasn’t had to deal with financial problems but then you’re rock bottom and having to rely on other people to feed your daughter.

But you can’t bury your head in the sand with this one. I accept I’m in debt and I needed help so that’s what I did. Citizens Advice, The Power Station in Cwmbran and United Welsh have all helped me with payment plans, discretionary payments and getting vouchers for food and clothes.

Mark and Yvonne from United Welsh had already visited me and the neighbours 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.

This is the vital thing – if you know you’re moving onto UC or even if you’re not sure but might have to, make preparations. It happened very quickly for me after losing my job but I still stocked up and did necessary things to help me cope without money.

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.

At my house, everything is on a meter so had to be topped, but I knew down the line I would get money back from my Tax Credits, so I used what I had to pay for my electric, water and gas.

I’ve worked ever since my baby was little so 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 in a savings account each week just in case.

I managed to get a £200 loan to help with essentials but I’m still paying that back now, so it’s better to save your own money than borrow. And don’t hesitate to use charities.
It has been horrendous but Isabelle [Emma’s three-year-old daughter] has had to come first.

She lost her nursery placement because I was behind with the bills and I couldn’t get her a free one, but I’m getting back on my feet now and have a car again.

I’m also doing more voluntary work to help tenants prepare for Universal Credit because if it wasn’t for support from the staff there, I don’t know what would have happened.
What next?

If you’re a United Welsh tenant or a Newydd tenant who has any questions about Universal Credit or needs advice about money or rent, please get in touch:

United Welsh: 0330 159 6080 / tellmemore@unitedwelsh.com

Newydd: 0303 040 1998 / enquiries@newydd.co.uk

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Nathan Spackman

Nathan is the Operations Director at Bro Radio. You'll hear him reading local news, hosting at local events and presenting our facebook live videos.