More than 1000 East Renfrewshire households face benefit deductions during lockdown

Kirsten Oswald, MP for East Renfrewshire, has condemned government policy on Universal Credit deductions during lockdown.

Figures released by DWP in response to a parliamentary question show that 1,300 households in East Renfrewshire in receipt of Universal Credit had an average sum of £58 deducted from their benefits at the height of lockdown, when household incomes were under pressure and the need for food banks was increasing dramatically.

Two in five households on Universal Credit had money deducted from their claim in May, almost entirely to repay loans to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

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The loans, known as advance payments, are often taken out by households to tide them over the five-week waiting period before Universal Credit is processed and paid.

Other deductions to repay historic debt and overpayments were suspended in May. However, now they have resumed, many more households will find sums deducted from Universal Credit claims later this year, despite growing concern at job losses in the wake of the pandemic.

Leading anti-hunger charity, Feeding Britain, has identified deductions from Universal Credit as one of the main causes of food bank demand.

Kirsten said: “The five-week wait for Universal Credit has led East Renfrewshire households with little or no money to rely on loans from the DWP for their first weeks on benefits.

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“This is an example of the failing Universal Credit system failing to protect the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

“While the Government deserves credit for increasing Universal Credit by £20 a week during the pandemic, that generosity has been reversed in too many cases by the deductions policy, with over 40% of Universal Credit recipients in East Renfrewshire facing a deduction from their benefit at the height of the pandemic.

“I was particularly incensed to hear of low-income households losing out simply because they received delayed furlough payments in a lump sum and these payments resulted in enhanced deductions.”

“The Universal Credit deductions policy is not fit for purpose in its current form. It should be revised now to prevent low income households from facing a “heat or eat” dilemma and being forced to rely on food banks in the months ahead.

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