MILLIONS of vulnerable households on Universal Credit could see payments slashed by £1,040 a year from April.
A temporary benefit boost worth £20 a week is aimed at helping those on low-incomes through the coronavirus crisis is due to end in March.
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It's unclear whether this will continue throughout 2021, causing distress for many struggling families.
Yesterday, Labour tabled an 'opposition day' vote on the whether to extend the policy but the Prime Minister told Conservative MPs to abstain, branding it a "stunt".
There are reports Chancellor Rishi Sunak is waiting until the Budget in March to announce an extension but warned Ministers that a 5p per litre fuel duty hike may be needed to fund it.
The uncertainty makes it hard for households to budget on a system where payments aren't always predictable.
Here, we explain the other ways you can get help if you face your benefit payments being reduced.
1. Flexible Support Fund
The Flexible Support Fund (FSF) is a sum of money that has been put aside by the government to help you with the costs of getting a job.
The fund is managed by local job centres and is handed out on top of your usual payments. Plus you don't have to pay it back.
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit
IF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:
- Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit payout.
- Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
- Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the Government for emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
- Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax by applying for a Council Tax Reduction. Alternatively, you might be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments to help cover your rent.
- Foodbanks – If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.
The funds can be used for things like job training, travel to interviews, childcare or clothes and uniform costs.
There's no set maximum amount that can be awarded and it varies by case, depending on your circumstances.
The fund is available to anyone who receives help from the job centre, from the moment that you start a claim.
Unfortunately, claimants don't have an automatic right to receive the help as it's up to the discretion of the adviser – but it's worth asking.
2. Advance payments
It can take up to five-weeks for to receive your first Universal Credit payment once you've applies.
This can plunge families further into debt, which is why The Sun is calling for the wait-time to be slashed to just two weeks as part of our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
To get through this period, families can apply for an advance paymentworth up to 100% of their estimated Universal Credit payout.
Remember, it's a loan and you're expected to pay the cash back.
The money is interest-free but repayments will be deducted from your first Universal Credit payments for up to two years until the full amount has been reimbursed.
Make sure you're able to afford to pay the repayments before taking one out.
You can apply for an advance payment in your online account, through your Jobcentre Plus work coach or by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
3. Budgeting loan
A budgeting loan is a one-off payment to help you cope with the cost of an unexpected expense or change in circumstances.
For example, you may be entitled the the help to pay for a replacement boiler if yours has broken, or the cost of a funeral.
How much you get depends on whether you have savings of over £1,000 and can pay the loan back. But typically you can borrow:
- £348 if you’re single
- £464 if you’re part of a couple
- £812 if you have children
You must also:
- Have been getting Universal Credit, employment and support allowance, income support, jobseeker’s allowance or state pension credit for six months or more, unless you need the money to help you start a new job or stay in work
- Have paid off any previous budgeting advance loans
Remember, it's a loan so you will have to pay it back. Repayments will be deducted from your Universal Credit payments.
4. Hardship payments
Claimants who have been sanctioned may qualify for a hardship payment while their Universal Credit payments are stopped or have been reduced.
A sanction is issued when you fail to meet your responsibilities or what you have agreed to in your "claimant commitment".
A hardship payment will help you pay for rent, heating, food or hygiene needs.
According to charity Citizens Advice, the hardship payment is roughly 60% of the amount you were sanctioned by in the last month.
Like the advanced payment, you'll need to pay a hardship payment back through your Universal Credit payments.
To apply, contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
Find out more about how you can appeal unfair benefit and Universal Credit sanctions.
5. Alternative payment arrangement
Your landlord might be able to apply for an alternative payment arrangement (APA) if you're falling behind on your rent.
The type of help you could get includes:
- Getting your rent paid directly to your landlord.
- Getting paid more frequently than once a month.
- Receiving split payments, if you’re part of a couple.
You'll need to talk to your work coach at the JobCentre Plus to apply for an APA.
How to cut the cost of your debt
IF you’re in large amounts of debt it can be really worrying. Here are some tips from Citizens Advice on how you can take action.
Check your bank balance on a regular basis – knowing your spending patterns is the first step to managing your money
Work out your budget – by writing down your income and taking away your essential bills such as food and transport
If you have money left over, plan in advance what else you’ll spend or save. If you don’t, look at ways to cut your costs
Pay off more than the minimum – If you’ve got credit card debts aim to pay off more than the minimum amount on your credit card each month to bring down your bill quicker
Pay your most expensive credit card sooner – If you have more than one credit card and can’t pay them off in full each month, prioritise the most expensive card (the one with the highest interest rate)
Prioritise your debts – If you’ve got several debts and you can’t afford to pay them all it’s important to prioritise them
Your rent, mortgage, council tax and energy bills should be paid first because the consequences can be more serious if you don't pay
Get advice – If you’re struggling to pay your debts month after month it’s important you get advice as soon as possible, before they build up even further
Groups like Citizens Advice and National Debtline can help you prioritise and negotiate with your creditors to offer you more affordable repayment plans
6. Charity grants
Charities often help those in need, and you may be eligible for a charitable grant to support you.
These grants are given by charitable funds, and do not have to be paid back.
You can use charity Turn2us' online grant search to find what grants you can get.
To see what's available, you'll need to pop in your post code, age and gender, then pick a category for the type of help you're looking for.
For example, Leeds-based organisation Lawrence Atwell's Charity is currently offering grants worth between £100 and £1,500 to local people aged 16 to 26 to help fund job training.
And construction workers in Plymouth can apply for a grant to help alleviate their financial strain and hardship through local charity, B&CE's Charitable Trust.
If you're struggling to put food on the table then you may be able to get free grub from a foodbank.
They are run by local charities, often held in churches or community centres, and rely on donations from members of the public.
In most cases, you'll need to be referred to one from an authority, such as Citizens Advice, social workers, health visitors and doctors.
You'll then be issued a voucher that can be exchanged for groceries at the foodbank.
One of the easiest ways to find a local food bank is through the The Trussel Trust – a network representing over 1,200 food banks throughout the country.
The trust provides families in crisis with a minimum of three days’ nutritionally-balanced food, either with vouchers or an emergency parcel.
To find the nearest Trussel Trust food bank near you, use their online search tool.
The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) is another group of food aid providers, including food banks.
You can check for the closest in its network using this interactive map.
Bankuet also allows you to search online to find a local option.
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