Magda* (*not her real name) applied for Universal Credit (UC) on her payday.
On months when her payday falls on a weekend, her employer pays her early, on the nearest working day (e.g. on a Friday instead of a Saturday).
As a consequence, the monthly assessment of her earnings sometimes counts her pay twice, catching the regular payday of the previous calendar month, and the ‘early payday’ of the current month.
This drastically reduces her entitlement to UC and makes it very difficult for her to budget.
I am in rent and childcare arrears. If I had applied for UC a day later or a day earlier, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s maddening that such a simple thing can have such a big effect. I don’t understand why I wasn’t told about this at the point I applied.
The advice I was given was to withdraw my claim then reapply 4 weeks later giving me a new assessment period and avoiding the problem. But that would mean going 9 weeks without any money. I’ve also read online forums which discuss this problem where people have done this and their assessment period still hasn’t changed.
I am now at the point of feeling very depressed and useless. I’ve been to my GP due to the stress it’s causing and I’m going to book an appointment with my midwife because I’m worried this is now affecting my pregnancy.
Magda* is not the only one affected by UC assessing their earnings twice because of where their assessment period falls. In January, the High Court ruled in favour of three single working mothers, stating that UC assessment periods should be adjusted “where it is clear that the amounts received in an assessment period do not, in fact, reflect, the amount of earned income for that period“.
Magda* is also not the only one to fall into rent arrears due to UC. A BBC investigation in November found Council tenants on universal credit have on average more than double the rent arrears of those still on housing benefit. The five-week wait built into the application (why Magda says that if she withdraws to reapply she would have 9 weeks without money and not just 4) has been cited as a key contributing factor.