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Food Bank Provider Challenges Parties To Commit To Benefit Debt Reform

77 per cent of people claiming Universal Credit and experiencing deductions ran out of food in the last month and didn’t have enough money to buy more. (Alamy)

3 min read

The UK's leading food bank charity is calling for benefit debt repayment reform as people claiming Universal Credit and facing benefit deductions are over three times more likely to say that they are facing real financial problems than their peers.

Benefit deductions can occur when the department for work and pensions (DWP) gives people an advance on Universal Credit while claimants wait for their entitlements to arrive in bank accounts, which can take up to five weeks. The advance is then deducted from subsequent payments until the advance is paid off. 

However, polling of 1,370 adults by YouGov for leading food bank charity the Trussell Trust found 77 per cent of people claiming Universal Credit and experiencing deductions had run out of food in the last month and didn’t have enough money to buy more, compared to 48 per cent for people not facing deductions.

YouGov also found 62 per cent of people claiming Universal Credit and facing benefit deductions have skipped meals in the last three months to keep up with other essential costs compared to 36 per cent of people without deduction.

90 per cent of people claiming Universal Credit and facing benefit deductions have gone without an essential in the last six months, compared to 67 per cent of people who were not facing benefit deductions.

The Trussell Trust, which distributed its highest ever number of food bank parcels last year at over 3.1m, said on Wednesday there needs to be a reduction in the amount the government is able to deduct from Universal Credit entitlements in repayments.

Currently, the government can reduce up to 25 per cent of the standard allowance of Universal Credit in deductions, but the Trussell Trust has called for a protected minimum deduction so the standard allowance cannot be reduced by more than 15 per cent. 

The charity is also asking for up front grants during the initial five week wait for Universal Credit payments, alongside the implementation of cross-government affordability assessments to ensure repayments do not leave people without enough income to cover essentials.

Helen Barnard, director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust told PoliticsHome reform of the current system of deductions was necessary, including affordability assessments. 

"If you're a creditor in the private sector, you have to go through an affordability assessment with somebody before you agree their debt repayments to make sure that you can afford it, to make sure priority debts are taken care of," she said.

"The DWP has steadfastly refused to do that; it is simply a conversation with the work coach and the person in front of them, and the work coach essentially says: 'right, we're going to knock off this amount of money'.

"In theory, the claimant could say: 'Well, I can't afford that, can we do it differently?' But that is not the experience of claimants, they don't have that kind of power in the conversation. People essentially just have to live with it."

Barnard said the Trussell Trust wanted to see commitments to reform benefit deductions from both Labour and the Conservatives in their manifestos ahead of the general election, which musy be called before the end of this year. 

"We need a commitment that the government's debt practices will not drive people into hunger, hardship, and other debt," Barnard continued. 

"What the evidence shows is that people who are having to pay debt deductions are more likely to get into other forms of debt, because they can't afford other things because the money's been knocked off at source by the government."

The Department for Work and Pensions has been approached for comment. 

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