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"Universal credit's assessment period is making me homeless"
I work for the NHS and I love it, but universal credit is crippling me and my family to the point that I'm considering bankruptcy.
The problem is that I get paid on the last Thursday of every month – and sometimes this can look as though I've been paid twice during my assessment period (which runs from the 30th to the 29th of every month).
Because of this, my universal credit amount can change from £1,000 per month (enough to pay childcare and rent) to £200 per month – not enough to last a week.
I am almost having to declare bankruptcy because of this. I don't think it will be long. I am already at serious risk of losing my Gentoo (housing association) tenancy. The DWP have claimed it is impossible to change my assessment period date to match and obviously my employer will not change everyone's pay date just to suit me!
I used to be able to plan, to have my finances laid out on an excel spreadsheet a year in advance when I was on tax credits – now I have no idea from one month to the next how much I'm worth – so can’t even promise payments to rent, council tax, etc.
I was never in arrears before for rent, but now I am over a £1,000 and have had a "notice of possession" all because universal credit think I am earning way more two or three times a year which is not right.
What are my options?
The universal credit system has many flaws to it – and top of the list is its 'assessment period' which can leave many families in limbo month to month.
The Department for Work and pensions uses this four week time frame to determine how much it will pay you in the following month. Every month this is reassessed, and, as has been the case for you, if you get paid twice (or look as through you have), it can cause complications, such as a lesser payment or worse, no payment at all.
When this happens, HMRC assumes your pay has gone up (for that month at least) and so it pays you less as a result. In some cases, it may strip your payment entirely, and ask you to reapply in the following month.
The frustrating thing is that there's little you can do about this – despite it even going to the high court.
In your case, the good news is that you still qualify for universal credit, even during the months when you appear to have been paid twice.
This means you can still apply for all of the extra help associated with universal credit to help you when your payments fall (including on housing).
This includes cold weather payments to help with energy bills, discretionary housing payments if your Universal Credit payment is not enough to pay your rent (it's paid those who are behind on rent due to welfare reforms), WaterSure to cap your bills if you have a water meter and a reduction in your Council Tax.
Many families are also unaware that a lot of their childcare costs can be reimbursed through universal credit. Employed claimants can claim up to £646.35 per month for their first child and up to £1,108.40 after that.
It's also worth considering a Help to Save account for the months when you do get the full amount.
This is a Government account designed to help people save for a rainy day. You can save anything from £1 to £50 a month and after two years of saving, the government will give you an extra 50p for every £1 in it.
A DWP spokesperson told Mirror Money: "If someone gets two lots of pay in the same assessment period, then their Universal Credit increases in the month when no wages are reported.
"Over the past six months Katrina has taken home an average of more than £2,000 in wages and Universal Credit each month.
"To learn more about how Universal Credit works, visit www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk."
Money Troubles aims to be informative and engaging. Though it may include tips and information, it does not constitute advice and should not be used as a basis for any financial decisions.
All information in this post was correct at date of publication.
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