Mother of three Kelly Redmond spent four months as a victim of the “administrative chaos” surrounding the implementation of universal credit.
It hadn’t even been introduced to the area of Merseyside where she lived, yet its roll-out in nearby areas led to a catalogue of failings over how her claim was dealt with.
“I suffer from depression anyway and I just felt, I can’t explain how I felt, it was horrible.”
Her problems started when she tried to tell officials that her boyfriend had moved in with her. He had moved from another part of the county where universal credit had already been launched.
“When we then spoke to universal credit we were getting nowhere.
“They basically said ‘I don’t know what you’re supposed to do’… They said that because [her boyfriend] Carl was on a universal credit claim, I couldn’t go on a joint claim for tax credits.
“I spoke to a lady from tax credit… and she sent me an application form.
“A few weeks later it came back saying: ‘Your claim has been rejected because there’s a universal credit claim open’.
“They wouldn’t let us close his universal credit claim down.
“I was so frustrated because no matter what we were doing and who we were speaking to it seemed like nobody knew what they were doing and so we didn’t know what to do.”
Long delays left her family in poverty and food banks became a lifeline.
“Friends say ‘you’ve had no money for how long?’ as if they didn’t believe me.
“I mean it was unbelievable how long we went with no money.
“I think the kids suffered.”
Her MP, Labour’s Maria Eagle, says the new system is a mess that should be stopped altogether.
“It’s just terrible that somebody who has followed all the rules and reported a change in circumstances should be treated this way for month after month after month.
“Kelly and her family have been caught up in this… there’s administrative chaos.
“I don’t blame the officials who are trying to do the job that they’re doing but it isn’t working properly.
“You shouldn’t be rolling something out if you can’t guarantee that the people who need it, aren’t going to be made poor and hungry in this way. It’s just unconscionable.”
By December, the system – merging six benefits into one – will be available in all job centres for new claimants but, bowing to pressure, the government is now delaying its roll-out for existing claimants. Full implementation is not expected until 2023.
Any issues with the new system’s design have not been helped by billions of pounds worth of cuts to it.
According to the Resolution Foundation, the original model for universal credit in 2015 forecast there would be roughly equal numbers of winners to losers: 2.6 million stood to gain from the changes, while 2.8 million would be worse off.
Under the current system, far more families stand to lose: 3.2 million in fact, with an average loss of £48 a week.
But while some local authorities are adopting the brace position, the Conservative-led council of Reigate and Banstead is confident the changes can be implemented smoothly, having spent a year preparing for their roll-out next week.
Graham Knight, deputy leader and executive member for housing and benefits, wants to push on.
“You’re always nervous when there’s a big change like this but we’re ready,” he said.
“The most important thing is universal credit will be a very good way to encourage people back into work and make sure that working works for them.
“It’s a great principal and one we’re very happy in supporting to make sure it’s right. I don’t think it should be stopped at all.”
Of course, making sure people are supported during the transition is no guarantee they will have an easier ride. And while the roll-out itself slows to a crawl, critics continue to ask whether it’s really worth the pain of carrying on.
(c) Sky News 2018: Universal credit brings ‘administrative chaos’