Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Archive for the ‘DWP’ Category

Council Tax Benefit (Support/Reduction) Messed up by Universal Credit.

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Image result for eric pickles

Eric Pickles has a Laugh at Claimants.

Pre-dating the mess of Universal Credit was the decision by Blubber Guts Eric Pickles to make all benefit claimants pay a proportion of Council Tax.

In 2013 we had, this “the benefit is being replaced by a new system, council tax support, that will be run by English local authorities but with 10% less funding.

It began like this,

 

Council tax benefit cuts: the expense of getting people with no money to pay up

2013.

Unlike the “bedroom tax“, which only affects tenants of councils and housing associations, changes to council tax benefits from April will also affect owner-occupiers and private tenants. It is currently claimed by 5.9 million recipients and is the most widely claimed means-tested benefit. Local authorities have been asked by the government to replace council tax benefit with new local schemes that reduce the amount of council tax relief councils can pay out.

 

Some have opted to protect the 100% council tax benefit that poorer residents who live in property in a low council tax band currently receive. Instead they are reducing the amount of benefit for people living in higher council tax band properties. Other councils have chosen to spread the cuts equally, opting for a maximum 90% rebate for everyone. In this case, people on the minimum income possible to survive will from April have to use their meagre income to pay 10% of their total council tax.

This was the result,

Eric Pickles and David Cameron handed local authorities the power to administer council tax benefit, then cut the budget by 10%, resulting in the number of households in council tax arrears to increase by 45%.

It soon developed: – and it is rare to find anywhere which has a 100% reduction today as the name “Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support)”  indicates.

Though there is this example (July 2019):

Some low income residents in South Ribble might not have to make a minimum contribution towards their council tax bills from next year.

South Ribble Borough Council is set to launch a public consultation on a proposal to scrap the so-called council tax support scheme, which means all working-age households pay a flat rate of £3.50 per week – even if their income level entitles them to help to cover the rest of the bill.

Now we have this, proving that if there’s one thing Universal Credit is good for, it’s making things worse.

DWP: Why Universal Credit is causing ‘one big headache’ over changes to council tax

Teesside Live.

Residents are being hit with different levels of bills due to complications caused by Universal Credit

Universal Credit is increasing the burden on struggling staff at a Teesside authority and leaving residents confused, due to its effect on council tax, a meeting heard.

Stockton Council has launched a six-month review into its council tax support scheme.

It does not take much to see that this must be happening across the country.

About 11,000 people receive council tax support in the borough and everyone of working age gets at least 20% of their bills.

But Julie Auffret, the council’s revenues and benefit services manager, has revealed how Universal Credit had hit both customers and council staff in how they dealt with council tax.

She told a meeting of the council’s place select committee that the introduction of Universal Credit was leasing to confusion and stress.

She said: “What it creates for us is complications which perhaps didn’t exist when we were dealing with housing benefit and council tax benefit ourselves.

“It meant we could calculate benefits at the same time – now that has been split, it has complicated it and makes it a slightly lengthier calculation than it used to be.”

Universal Credit rolled six benefits into one and was introduced in Stockton a year ago.

But the benefits manager explained month-on-month adjustments to Universal Credit had meant the council had to keep recalculating its own council tax support.

Ms Auffret said: “For us that’s becoming quite a significant administrative burden – and for customers it’s becoming difficult for them to understand why their council tax support is being recalculated repeatedly and why they’re getting lots of bills.

“We’d really like to explore a different way of doing things to make it simpler.”

Changes were made to the council tax system in 2013 when the Government abolished council tax benefit and told local authorities to form their own support schemes.

Stockton runs a “work incentive” programme designed to offer those on low incomes a boost from their wages.

But a review is being considered given the impacts of Universal Credit.

This was all so obvious…

Plus, the fact that we have had to pay this tax, without any corresponding increase in benefits, was another part of the great reduction in our basic living standard this lot of thieves introduced.

Johnson, and his mates, have no plans to change this unjust council tax regime.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 12, 2019 at 5:07 pm

DWP Cuts Staff as Universal Credit Mess Gets Worse and Worse.

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Image result for universal credit protests

UNITE Community Protests, but where is Labour?

This got our attention today:

 

DWP blasted for ‘reckless’ staff cuts at same time as launching Universal Credit

The number of staff working in the welfare department has plummeted by a fifth since the benefit began life in 2013

Written by Andrew Coates

July 8, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Boris Johnson Plans to Tackle Food Poverty.

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Benefit Poverty to be Solved by Cheap Sugary Drinks.

Benefits have not risen – and have stayed at a declining pittance – for so long that barely a living soul can recall when you could buy a pints of Wallop, a twist of shag, and a mid-day plateful of liver and onions with your dole with enough over for a fish supper.

But while not talking about Universal Credit, or benefits, or unemployment, during his leadership contest Boris Johnson has our feeding and drinking interests at heart.

Tory leadership: Boris Johnson promises review of ‘unhealthy food taxes’

Boris Johnson has said he wants to examine whether levies on foods high in salt, fat and sugar are effective, and has vowed not to introduce any new ones until the review is complete.

The “sugar tax” on drinks came into force in April 2018, and a wider levy on all unhealthy foods is being considered to help tackle obesity.

Mr Johnson says he is concerned they unfairly target the less well-off.

Many a cynic will suggest that his plans include a special Brexit US chlorinated chicken, dunkin’ donuts, and cactus cooler diet as the base for DWP calculation on the food claimants’ need to eat (in the old days they produced a calculation on such things as part of ‘what you need to live on’).

Back in the world of tears we hear today.

Since Universal Credit came in the food bank has been packed: My Wigan Pier Story

Mirror.

As part of our Road to Wigan Pier project, eight decades after the publication of George Orwell’s essay, Coventry Food Bank project manager Hugh McNeill, explains how visitor numbers have soared since the introduction of Universal Credit.

And, also today:

And

 

Not to mention this:

 

Amber is active as well!

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 3, 2019 at 4:21 pm

DWP Still in Denial about ‘Misleading’ Advertising Campaign.

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Boris the Bounder is back all over the news but this continues to rumble:

A few days ago this was in the paper many of us on the dole actually read, the ‘I’

Universal Credit: Controversial DWP newspaper adverts were ‘deliberately misleading’, advertising watchdog told

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – an umbrella group of 80 organisations including Age UK, the MS Society and the Royal British Legion – has written to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the DWPcampaign, which it claims breached several advertising rules and could be “knowingly dangerous to the health and security of disabled people”.

Universal Credit adverts that were published in Metro from 22 May claimed to “bust myths” about the controversial benefit. But the DBC, which also counts Macmillan Cancer Support, Scope and foodbank charity The Trussell Trust as members, has branded them “a disgrace” and urged the ASA to take action.

The original statement from this estimable organisation is this:
DBC letter to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a national coalition of over 80 different charities and other organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system.

As a coalition we are writing to issue an official complaint regarding the recent advertisement campaign from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) concerning universal credit, which ran for the first time in the Metro newspaper on Wednesday 22ns May 2019.

The DWP are advertising what they call ‘Universal Credit uncovered’, a series of adverts ‘busting myths’ on Universal Credit.  According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), you ‘work to make sure all advertising wherever it appears is legal, decent, honest and truthful’, we consider that the aforementioned DWP adverts are deliberately misleading. We believe the adverts breach the Non Broadcast Codes – in particular those regarding misleading advertising

3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

The adverts claim it’s a “myth” that “Universal Credit doesn’t work”, adding: “fact: it does.” These statements omit the thousands of claimants universal credit does not ‘work for’ but instead has driven them into debt, rent arrears, foodbanks, and homelessness.

A joint DWP and HMRC study, which examined how tax credit claimants coped with the move to universal credit, found 60% of those who said they struggled to pay bills said their difficulties began when they moved on to the new benefit[1]. About half of those surveyed did not have sufficient savings to tide them over until they received their first payment. A few claimants endured “considerable stress” after payment delays meant they had to wait up to three months to get their money1.

The Work and Pension Select Committee report ‘Universal Credit: support for disabled people’ found that one in eight universal credit claimants do not receive their benefit on time and in full[2]. One in ten receive nothing at all on time and disabled people fare even worse as only a third of new claimants whose award includes an additional amount for disability receive payment on time and in full.

The DBC recently surveyed around 500 disabled people about their experience of Universal Credit. The survey highlights some serious concerns and deeply worrying findings. The majority of respondents who moved from employment support allowance onto universal credit said they now get less or a lot less money than they did previously. People told us that the impact of having less money includes struggling to pay for food (70%), driving a significant number of people to food banks (35%) and a worsening of people’s health, in particular their mental health (85%) and most worryingly driving people to consider suicide.

The government claim that universal credit supports you if you are on a low income or out of work. Given disabled people are struggling to get by on universal credit, to claim it works is simple misleading.

3.2 Obvious exaggerations (“puffery”) and claims that the average consumer who sees the marketing communication is unlikely to take literally are allowed provided they do not materially mislead.

A second advert says “myth: Universal Credit makes it harder to pay your rent on time.” Followed by “fact”; your Jobcentre can give you an advance payment and pay rent directly to landlords”.

In reality, the DWP will never pay an advance payment to a landlord, only directly to the client.  The wording implies an advanced payment can be paid directly to the landlord. The use of two different colours to separate the claim is inaccessible to some disabled people and will leave people wrongly believing that an advance payment can be paid directly to a landlord.

This claim also clearly implies that anyone can have their rent paid directly to the landlord.  In reality, you have to apply to the job centre for this to happen, and you have to meet certain criteria.  So, for a person on the old legacy benefits, who would have had housing benefit paid directly to the landlord, it is true that it will be harder to pay their rent on time, because they now must take responsibility for doing it themselves, which takes more planning.

The claim clearly does not distinguish between advanced payments which cannot be paid to landlords and regular payments. It also makes no distinction of whom would be eligible for direct payment and implies this option is guaranteed for everyone. This is again misleading and incorrect.

3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.

One advert says it’s a “myth” that “you have to wait 5 weeks to get any money on Universal Credit”, followed by “fact: Jobcentres can “urgently pay you an advance.” It is not clear that an advance must be paid back, the advert omits that these advances are taken out of future payments and have to be paid back over several months. This means claimants receive less money in the following months, and less money than they will have actually budgeted for. It could be misconstrued to mean it is a payment in advance instead of a payment in arrears; it is essentially a loan.

This claim also misleads the reality disabled people face when taking out the loan before receiving their payment. Given that disabled people are a key audience for universal credit this advert is clearly targeting vulnerable groups without providing the necessary clarity. One disabled person who took out the loan said:

“The full monthly payment is nowhere near adequate anyway, and now I’ve taken an advance I get even less. I’ve never been in such a financial mess and I’ve now been forced to get help from a foodbank. It felt like a walk of shame.”

Latest statistics show 840,000 people have had reduced payments as a result of taking out this loan. Of this 840,000 claims with a deduction[3]:

  • 50% (420,000 claims) had deductions up to 20% of the Standard Allowance
  • 20% (170,000 claims) had deductions between 21% and 30% of the Standard Allowance
  • 28% (238,000 claims) had deductions between 31% and 40% of their Standard Allowance
  • 1% (13,000 claims) had deductions above 40% of their Standard Allowance

The fact that people who take out this loan can then look to have 40% reductions in future benefits should have been set out clearly in the advertisement. It is not clear in the language that this payment is a loan and that taking it out can leave disabled people in a worse financial position.

The advert itself is visually misleading and inaccessible. Given the target audience is those who are out of work, many of whom will be sick or disabled, the lack of clarity that it is a DWP advertisement is disingenuous. An internal memo, reported by the Mirror, claims the lack of clarity (no logo or DWP branding) regarding this being a DWP advertisement was deliberate[4].

These are some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is a disgrace that they are being treated with such disregard. At best these adverts are accidentally misleading at worst they are knowingly dangerous to the health and financial security of disabled people.

We believe there is clear evidence that these adverts are misleading and urge the ASA to take this complaint seriously and act as quickly as possible.

We look forward to your response,

The Disability Benefits Consortium

[1] Gov UK, Transition from tax credits to Universal Credit: qualitative and quantitative research with claimants. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transition-from-tax-credits-to-universal-credit-qualitative-and-quantitative-research-with-claimants

[2] Work and Pensions Committee, Universal Credit: support for disabled people. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/1770/1770.pdf

[3] Universal Credit:Written question – 257147 – https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-05-21/257147/

[4] Mirror, ‘Fury as DWP launches taxpayer-funded ‘spin’ campaign to defend Universal Credit‘. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/fury-dwp-launches-taxpayer-funded-16183343?utm_source=sharebar&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sharebar

DWP disputes survey claiming Universal Credit adverts were ‘deliberately misleading’

Teeside Live.

A coalition of disability charities say that Government adverts paid for in local newspapers are ‘deliberately misleading’

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) highlighted a recent advertising campaign by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which was described as a “myth buster” on the flagship benefit.

The complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) coincides with new research from the DBC, which claims Universal Credit benefit was having a “devastating impact” on disabled people.

The complaint relates to a recent newspaper advertising campaign by the DWP, which the charities say featured adverts designed to look like news articles.

 

Meanwhile even this Blog can report exclusively on this:

Written by Andrew Coates

June 22, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Universal Credit Five-Week Wait Pushed Women into Sex Work, Government admits.

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Image result for universal credit sex work

Government Admits Truth of Story.

Contributors to this Blog have talked about the Work and Health programme .

The Work and Health Programme helps you find and keep a job if you’re out of work.

It’s voluntary – unless you’ve been out of work and claiming unemployment benefits for 24 months.

So says the DWP, but people have lots of criticisms…

It would be important to continue this in more detail, any information and opinions welcome.

In the meantime, the Universal Credit Sage continues.

First, the attention grabbing.

Back in April there was this from the Work and Pensions Committee.

Universal Credit and Survival Sex: sex in exchange for meeting survival needs inquiry

Then in May Committee hears first evidence on Universal Credit and “survival sex”

 This week there was this: DWP Minister questioned on Universal Credit and survival sex

The Committee stated.

Two key points immediately stand out:

“Dismissive” attitude of DWP

The first, which was strongly echoed in the public evidence that followed but was first articulated by Witness M in private, was the “dismissive” attitude of the Department for Work and Pensions toward the inquiry. As M put it, describing the DWP’s first written evidence submission (“memorandum”):

“M: I really felt that the memorandum was an attempt to kind of cover the DWP’s back and be like, “Oh well, you can’t prove that it is us or you can’t prove that it is Universal Credit that is the issue”, like it tried to blame sex workers for being here and it kind of like proved the point that it is poverty and it is this horrible system that is making us be in the sex industry…

It is the five-week waits. The other thing is [the single household payment of Universal Credit] in domestic violence relationships, apparently I have heard the man will get the money and then can control like that. I think that is one…”

The Committee had a similar impression of DWP’s first response and wrote back  “inviting” it to reconsider its stance : the Department’s s revised submission, received last Thursday, will be considered at the evidence hearing with the Minister tomorrow.

Too daunting to apply

A second clear point reinforced the impression of the first: despite the four women’s very different stories, most had found it too daunting or prohibitive to even attempt to apply for Universal Credit, even though some had experience of successfully claiming “legacy” benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance.

The story reached the media again yesterday

Woman Tells MPs Selling Sex Is ‘Easiest Way To Survive’ After Struggling With Universal Credit

Nicola Slawson Huffington Post.

A  woman has told MPs how selling her body for sex became the “easiest thing to do” to make ends meet, after Universal Credit left her with just £52 a month to live on.

The 21-year-old, who was not identified, told a parliamentary hearing how she would have to see “five or six” clients just to get the money for a day’s rent.

The hearing is part of an inquiry into the possible link between the controversial new benefit and claimants resorting to exchanging sex for money, food or shelter, known as “survival sex”.

The testimony was part of evidence by four women dubbed T, K, B and M to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee.

T told the committee she had previously worked 12-hour shifts as a care worker while struggling under the old benefit system resulting in her losing her housing benefit.

She applied for Universal Credit and had to visit foodbanks three times while waiting for her first payment – and ended up homeless as she tried to scrape together enough money for food and tampons.

This was the result:

 

Universal credit delays a factor in sex work, government accepts

Patrick Butler. Guardian.

The government has dropped its hardline refusal to accept that destitution caused by five-week waits for universal credit payments has been a major factor in forcing some women to turn to sex work.

Giving evidence to the work and pensions select committee, the minister for family support, Will Quince, apologised for a memo his department sent to the committee last month and said it “did not very well reflect my views on this issue”.

The memo dismissed evidence that universal credit was a cause of increased numbers of women turning to sex work as anecdotal. It said the phenomenon was influenced by a range of factors, from drug addiction and the rise of AirBnB to EU immigration

Quince told the committee he had changed his views after hearing accounts from four women who gave evidence of how impoverishment related to universal credit issues had led them to take up escort and brothel work.

“Those very brave testimonies of the young women who have gone through the most horrific of experiences gave me a better understanding through their lived experiences. What it showed me more than anything is we need to better understand this area,” he said.

A transcript of the private committee hearing in May included a testimony from M, a brothel worker. She said the fact that drug and alcohol drove people into survival sex work did not mean that universal credit had not caused “a really big influx”

This is another committee at work whose findings and recommendations, out today, something tells, me won’t get the same publicity:

Scottish parliamentary committee calls for universal credit overhaul

Kerry Lorimer

The introduction of universal credit, and in particular the five-week delay before receipt of the first payment, has led to an “unacceptable” rise in rent arrears north of the border.

In a new report, members of the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee called for an overhaul of the benefit, which would see a review of the initial delay as well as the direct payment of the housing element to landlords in order to reduce arrears.

The MSPs also called for abolition of the “frankly discriminatory” shared accommodation rate, which limited the amount of housing benefit or universal credit that can be claimed by tenants under the age of 35, who rent a room in a shared house from a private landlord.

According to evidence heard by the committee, the shared accommodation rate created “significant financial difficulty, debt and hardship” among younger people, with separated parents particularly badly affected.

The report also draws attention to the widening gap between local housing allowances and the cost of renting in the private sector, especially in Edinburgh and other urban areas.

Originally uprated in line with market rent, local housing allowances have been frozen since 2016, meaning that in many parts of Scotland they do not serve their intended purpose and should be reviewed, the MSPs said.

The committee was also “extremely concerned” by the high cost of temporary accommodation and “troubled” by the poor quality of the accommodation some tenants had been offered. Although temporary accommodation is intended to be a short-term measure, people find themselves trapped there due to the shortage of affordable alternatives, they heard.

Bob Doris, convener of the social security committee, said the rapid increase in rent arrears since the introduction of universal credit was “unacceptable”, and that steps must be taken to address this issue, which was increasing the budgetary strain on both local authorities and social landlords.

“We want to see the housing element of universal credit paid directly to landlords and the Department for Work and Pensions must review the minimum five-week wait for new…claimants, both of which contribute to rising arrears,” he said.

“Our inquiry highlighted a number of issues, including the frankly discriminatory shared accommodation rate which should be abolished immediately.

“It is also clear that local housing allowance rates are not fit for purpose and are failing to help claimants meet the rising cost of the private rented sector.”

A UK government spokeswoman said that while rent arrears could not be linked to any one cause, many people joined universal credit with pre-existing arrears, and research showed that number fell by a third after four months.

“In Scotland we already pay rent directly to landlords where requested and can pay universal credit more frequently to help with budgeting,” she said.

“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, including flexibilities within universal credit and the power to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”

Written by Andrew Coates

June 13, 2019 at 3:13 pm

Protests Begin Again Against Universal Credit.

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Saturday Protest: Norfolk Against Universal Credit

No photo description available.

Protests have begun again against Universal Credit.

People are protesting outside a Leicester Jobcentre because of Universal Credit

Leicestershire  Live. 

A number of people braved the rain to make their point.

(Note to Editor, not the most inspiring lead….)

A group of campaigners staged their latest protest against the introduction of Universal Credit in Leicester this week.

Members of the Labour Party and the Unite trade union staged the event as part of their ongoing campaign against the benefit, which they say is causing financial hardship in households across the country.

Today’s event was also aimed at a member of staff at the Job Centre who told LeicestershireLive last month that he believed Universal Credit had ‘changed things for the better’ for those receiving it.

Steve Bruce, 38, a work coach team leader at Leicester’s Wellington Street Job Centre Plus, said: “There are always going to be people who have a negative experience, but we see the amount of good Universal Credit has done and that’s our encouragement to carry on, the proof that it works.

The protestors, who were joined by recently elected city councillors  Jacky Nangreave and Gary O’Donnell, said they were not calling for action to be taken against the member of staff but wanted to highlight their disagreement with the points he made in the article.

This is a good story too:

Yet the DWP keeps churning it out:

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 9, 2019 at 11:21 am

Trussell Trust Takes on DWP Universal Credit Propaganda and Calls for Grants to Replace ‘Loans’.

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Trussell Trust.

 

This Wednesday, MPs will debate Universal Credit and debt – we want to make sure as many MPs as possible turn up and speak out.

Everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for a full payment – some are left waiting longer. This is leaving many people without enough money to cover the basics, forcing them to food banks.

While you wait, you can apply for an ‘advance payment’ – a loan from the Government to see you through that five week period. But once your Universal Credit payments start, you pay that loan back automatically through deductions from your monthly payments.

This puts people between a rock and a hard place: hardship now or hardship later?

Ending the five week wait should be the Government’s first priority to help create a future without food banks.

Background:

Universal Credit advance payments should be ‘scrapped and replaced by grants’

Mirror.

New figures show these so-called ‘bridging loans’ – which come with fixed repayment plans – are only causing more debt. It’s time to scrap them

Government loans designed to tide people over until their first Universal Credit payments reach them are causing more harm than good, a new report has suggested.

Charities StepChange and the Trussell Trust said advance payments to help ‘people get by’ are only fuelling more hardship because of the repayment thresholds.

A new report detailing the front-line impact of the five-week wait said advance payments are not a solution for many households already at risk.

In many cases it said these payments should simply be written off as grants instead.

The Trussell Trust – which manages a network of 420 foodbanks across the UK – said the biggest reason for referrals last year was benefit payments failing to cover the cost of living.

It said going five weeks or more with no income can lead to debt and rent arrears, with those faced with “additional inescapable costs”, such as disabled people and families with children, the most likely to fall into the poverty bracket.

“Repayments don’t take into account people’s ability to afford them,” the report said.

“It’s vital that this is done in an affordable way.”

In the private sector, all loans must come with an affordability – and repayment – assessment.

However, Universal Credit advance payments are different. Deduction levels are fixed by the DWP and these can be hard to challenge, even if you fall into financial hardship while repaying.

“In some cases, you can have your repayment levels renegotiated, but this is rare,” the report added. “By that point, you’re likely already to be in financial difficulty, and may be in arrears on other bills.”

The DWP can deduct up to 40% of your Universal Credit allowance to repay debts. This will fall to 30% in October this year.

And the impact is worrying. StepChange said after three months, 44% of Universal Credit claimants are still struggling to pay their bills.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile as our Newshawks have already noticed:

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 5, 2019 at 12:08 pm