A mum-to-be will have to survive on just a penny a month after her Universal Credit payments were slashed “without her knowledge”.
Distraught Keeley Sheppard, 20, is 29 weeks pregnant and about to move into a new home.
She had expected to receive £500 per month but was devastated to find that her payments had been stopped almost entirely – and without warning.
Keeley and her partner Dan Pye, 25, are expecting their first child at Christmas and moved to live with her dad and stepmum in the Cotswolds in May – when they switched to a joint Universal Credit claim.
At the moment Keeley doesn’t work and partner Dan is looking for work.
“We were both on single universal credit claims before,” said Keeley from Lechdale, Glos.
“Everything was fine, we went to appointments, did all that stuff.
“We went onto a joint claim because we were moving in together.
“It wasn’t until last month when we logged on to our UC account and found out we were getting paid a penny,” she said.
If a claimant hasn’t done one of the activities in their claimant commitment they could be sanctioned, meaning their UC payments will be temporarily reduced.
However, Keeley said she has been given no explanation for the sanction, and has been forced to take out a £300 Recoverable Hardship Loan from the job centre.
This month, their UC payment has increased to £40 but is still well below what was expected.
“In the last month I have been told, because I’m 29 weeks pregnant now, that I can only be sanctioned up to 20 per cent, if I am sanctioned,” she said.
“But I’ve been sanctioned pretty much fully.”
Keeley’s stepmum Billiejo has got Fibromyalgia so is no longer working, while her 16-year-old sister also lives at the same flat – “so it’s all five of us on my dad’s wage”.
“Obviously, our UC helps them out a little bit and my dad can’t afford to keep all of us, he’s trying his hardest, we’re making it work to a certain point but it is hard.”
Keeley, who has been prescribed anti-depressants due to the stress of the situation, said the DWP “won’t give us a straight answer.
“They just keep saying the same thing: ‘you’re just going to have to ask for another loan this month’.”
Billiejo said: “It’s absolutely disgusting that [they] are setting them up, a young couple, due a baby at Christmas and just going into their first home, into debt and to fail already when [they] are not giving them any answers and it’s an absolute disgrace.
Universal Credit is a monthly payment to help with living costs for those who have low income or are out of work.
It is currently being introduced across the UK and replaces Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit and income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
The Government has come under increased pressure to pause the rollout of UC, which critics say puts vulnerable families at risk.
On Wednesday, work and pensions secretary David Gauke said that the controversial 55p-a-minute charge on the welfare helpline would be scrapped, but rejected calls for a pause in the rollout.
But Theresa May will not delay the rollout despite Labour winning a House of Commons vote calling for a pause in the introduction of the flagship benefit reform.
The DWP has been approached for comment.