A YOUNG mother from Stoke-on-Trent who was unknowingly the victim of a Universal Credit payment blunder has been saddled with unexpected debt at the worst possible time.
Charlie Cotton was sanctioned even though the mistake wasn’t her fault.
The 23-year-old went on maternity leave late last year to look after their baby daughter, Darcie, and began receiving Universal Credit payments.
Unbeknownst to Charlie, an administrative error meant she was paid £738 more than she should have paid.
She was then fined £50, although the overpayment wasn’t her fault.
The former Heywood High School student, who has worked since she was 16, has never claimed any benefits and had no idea she was being given too much money.
While the £50 fine was waived because she was not responsible for the mistake, she will have to repay the debt at the worst possible time when the cost of living is skyrocketing.
Charlie, 23, said: “My earnings were not properly declared (by my employer) so Universal Credit did not receive the information they needed.
As a result I have had to make two repayments to date which have been deducted from my claim.
That’s money I can’t afford as a single parent.”
Charlie added that she accepted the money was more than she was entitled to, but added, “You would expect it to be right.”
Describing the impact the pressure on the cost of living was having on her and six-month-old Darcie, she said after paying her rent she was left with just £325 a month in Universal Credit income to live on.
Stoke on Trent’s mother said she paid for her electricity and gas with a prepayment meter and had to limit herself to paying around £50 a month for it.
Charlie added: “When it’s dark and I need to see something, I have to walk around with the flashlight on my phone instead of turning on a lamp.
“I probably wash myself every two weeks now. I eat in the evening but nothing during the day. It’s a mixture of not being able to afford it and knowing I’d rather put food in my daughter’s mouth.
“I’d rather know I bought food for her than for myself.”
She said it was particularly difficult to come up with everything on a basic income like this while she couldn’t work, while “Boris Johnson probably doesn’t even know what a loaf of bread costs”.
StokeonTrentLive recently reported that the number of people in North Staffordshire who have received Universal Credit sanctions has risen since before the pandemic, with 399 sanctioned this year, compared with just 94 in February 2020.
Thousands of people nationwide have been investigated for possible fraud over the past year if they gave false information to DWP.
As Charlie struggled with universal credit, he added, “I think a lot of people are kind of ashamed to talk about it, but when people don’t talk about it, nobody knows how difficult it is.”
A Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: “Unfortunately, Ms Cotton suffered an overpayment of benefit after her employer was late in reporting her maternity benefit.
“We will be contacting Ms. Cotton to provide assistance and information to discuss manageable repayments with our recovery team.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/5598224/ive-been-left-in-debt-at-worst-possible-time-by-universal-credit-blunder-after-being-overpaid-and-it-wasnt-my-fault/ I ended up in debt at the worst possible time from Universal Credit failures after being overpaid — and it wasn’t my fault