Leanne Barnett from Plymouth, Devon, says she endured months of hell trying to survive and keep a roof over her head because she wasn't receiving the benefits she was entitled to.
Her ordeal began this June when she stopped receiving enough cash to cover her rent – because Universal Credit welfare officials thought she was living with her ex and didn't need the extra money.
Leanne spent months trying to prove she was in fact living alone with her 14-year-old daughter and wasn't working due to injuries sustained in a car accident as well as her battle with a long-term health condition Fibromyalgia.
Yet all she continued to receive was a basic child support allowance and statutory sick pay, which didn't cover her rent, bills and food.
As a result, Leanne says she had no choice but to sell her clothes and anything of value in her Plymouth Community Homes managed property in order to stay alive.
She said: "I paid what I could in rent, when I could, and had to start selling stuff to make money. I was selling clothes, appliances, exercise equipment, anything really."
Leanne has shared her story to highlight the emotional toll of Universal Credit, a new benefits system which replaces six forms of credit into one monthly payment.
She added: "The Government needs to put the benefits system back to how it was; with multiple payments so you knew what everything was for. There are so many people like me ending up in debt because of Universal Credit; it's unreal."
Last week she came close to being evicted, and despite coming to an arrangement with the council, she now accepts she will spend months and potentially years ahead trapped in debt because she's racked up rent arrears of almost £1,000.
She says Universal Credit is entirely to blame for landing her in debt – yet the system is only going to cover back a proportion of what's owed. She also believes officials don't realise the impact the welfare policies have on people's lives and that the "system doesn't work".
What is Universal Credit and who does it affect?
Universal Credit is a new welfare scheme designed to wrap a number of benefits into a single monthly payment.
Universal Credit replaces the following benefits:
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Working Tax Credit
Whether you can claim Universal Credit depends on where you live and your circumstances.
Currently, Universal Credit is mainly claimed by the unemployed, or those on a low income.
If you're already on benefits, you don't need to apply for Universal Credit unless your circumstances change or you're told to by the DWP.
The scheme has been piloted in some areas of the UK in late 2017 – but a national rollout was delayed in October this year, with the majority of users not going onto the new system until December 2023.
But the new Universal Credit system's rollout has been far from smooth – with many Brits claiming it's pushing them into debt.
One single mum told us how she was at risk of losing her home after applying for Universal Credit – because she couldn't claim help with her mortgage debt.
And earlier this week another Brit said she couldn't even afford a loaf of bread while she waited for her payment to come through.
She added: "My depression is worse, and when I get anxious about money it makes my Fibromyalgia worse; it's a never-ending cycle.
"It's going to be hard getting out of the cycle of debt and the problems it's caused. I don't know how long it will be before I'm on top of everything. I feel let down by the system, it's completely messed up.
"They sit in their cosy offices and don't realise that real people struggle day to day because the system doesn't work," she added.
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