A single mum of three living off £195 a month has been OVERPAID, say Universal Credit officials
A young mum's dreams of getting a degree and a career in criminology have been dashed for good after Universal Credit officials refuse to budge.
Single parent Claire Buckner had to leave her job when lockdown began last year to focus on her three young children.
In October she enrolled to start a degree in psychology and criminology with the hope of it leading to a better paid career. She was awarded student finance of £11,000 a year - £4,000 of which Universal Credit have to discount.
"I advised Universal Credit and sent all the relevant documents to them as requested," she said.
But early this year the DWP stopped Claire's payments completely because of the student finance payments..
As a result, she was forced to quit her degree studies and feed her family with her child benefit money and her children's free school meals allowances.
She has found a job, but it does not start until April 12. In the meantime time, she is living off the breadline, she says.
"I have been advising Universal Credit for weeks that they have made an error on my claim. I either get ignored or asked to resend information" said Claire.
"I am now into my third month of no money. My mental health and self worth have been damaged severely by this. I've been proactive and found alternative employment, as I do not believe in living off the state and have been desperately trying to avoid falling in to the poverty trap. But it seems I have found myself there anyway."
Claire says the council is now chasing her for rent as her housing benefit has been stopped. She is also getting demands for council tax.
The Citizen contacted DWP last week and they promised an urgent investigation into why Claire's Universal credit payments were stopped.
A day later they came back with the response - and insisted they were correct to stop the payments,
A DWP spokesperson said: “We can confirm Ms Buckner’s Universal Credit has been correctly calculated based on the information provided.”
He added: "Initially, Ms Buckner only provided partial information by the payment calculation deadline, which led to overpayments.
"On one occasion we didn’t give Ms Buckner the required method to upload the requested documents, and we apologise for this.
"Upon receiving the correct student finance documents in full, this created overpayments in October, November and December, and underpayments in January and February, with a net overpayment."
They then informed Claire, that far from reinstating her payments, she owed them £2,300."
Earlier the same spokesman had said: “Universal Credit can be available to full-time students under certain conditions, including those responsible for a child or receiving other disability-related benefits.”
Devastated Claire said: "Universal Credit called to tell me they looked in to and I somehow owe them 2,300.
"I am living off £195 a month currently. I have spoken to my local MP Iain Stewart. His case worker is helping. But I feel like I need more help. This is soul destroying. I am a single mum of three who has had to pick herself up from rock bottom.
"I've dragged myself back up and tried to better myself and yet I'm being penalised for this...The moment you try to get out of the poverty trap you get destroyed."
Claire's story last week gathered a huge sympathetic response on social media, with people criticising DWP for making it so difficult for a young single mum to study and get a well-paid career.