A DAD who reduced his working hours so he could care for his young son received 1p of support in 10 weeks under the new Universal Credit system.
Alastair Campbell signed up to the new benefits system at the start of November. But when he received his first payment just 10 days before Christmas, he was left stunned at the amount which appeared in his bank.
And in the weeks which followed, he was left without another payment – leaving him relying on handouts from family and friends to survive.
Alastair told the Courier: “The entire system is a joke. They paid me 1p because they had to be seen to be paying me something, and then left me with nothing. It is just appalling.”
NHS worker Alastair, 41, looks after his nine-year-old son Luke at his home in Musselburgh but fell into rent arrears earlier this year after a relationship breakdown and mental health issues.
He applied for the new Universal Credit from the Department for Work and Pensions and reduced his working hours so he could look after his son, but after six weeks of attending meetings and filling in forms he found all his money had been given to East Lothian Council to pay his backdated rent.
To show he had received an initial payment, they put 1p into his bank on the day his first payment was due, before leaving him for another full month with no further payments.
Alastair said: “They told me they had paid around £170 to East Lothian Council for rent arrears but I was due nothing else. It seems under the new system they can put child tax credit money towards rent arrears instead of just housing benefits.
“To make it worse, they don’t seem to be able to tell you how much you will receive each month in advance, especially when you work part-time.
“At the very least I expect my child tax credit allowance to help care for my son but there was no explanation about how they came to their decision... and no money.”
Desperate Alastair even found himself having to extend his annual holiday following his New Year break – because he could not afford to travel to work.
And when he bombarded the job centre with angry emails after receiving no payment again at the weekend, they sent police to his home in Musselburgh to make sure he was OK.
Alastair revealed that when the officers arrived and saw his situation, one left his home for a short while before returning with a bag of groceries for him.
He said: “The officer came in with a bag with mince, pasta, butter and other essentials. It was a measure of how desperate my situation was but also restored my faith in human kindness.”
Now Alastair is calling for the new system to be changed, warning it will lead to tragedy.
He said: “I was told I should look for work and get used to it as this is the way it will be from now on.
“The system is ridiculous. They are going to have people taking their own lives or committing crime to survive if this continues. It pushes you to the edge.”
Last month, the Courier revealed council officials reported an increase in petty crime was being linked to Universal Credit.
East Lothian became the first council in Scotland to take part in the introduction of the new credit, which replaces benefits with one single payment. The local authority has seen an increase in rent arrears since, with money being paid directly to tenants, rather than housing benefit being given directly to landlords.
The Scottish Government this month announced plans to use devolved powers to allow landlords, such as local authorities, to claim the housing element of the single payment directly from the Department for Work and Pensions in a bid to help tenants avoid falling into arrears – a move East Lothian Council has been calling for in recent months.
Changes will also be made to give the option to return payment to fortnightly, for those struggling with the new monthly payment.