Diary Day 99: An Aside About The Housing Benefit Missing Xmas Payment Cock Up and Universal Credit

On New Years Eve, I opened up my bank account and read the balance.

My rent was due on the 3rd January 2016 and, as this was the last day of the month, my new Housing Benefit payment of £909.00 should have been in my account since my recent house move. Housing Benefit is paid on the last day of every month.

Nothing was there.

A big fat nothing.

No matter how many times I blinked and looked at it again, rubbing my eyes, it still wasn’t there.

My heart started pounding and my mind hamster-wheeling. I’d had the letter from the Council earlier in December confirming that my application was accepted.

There should have been no problem. But there was. Obviously.

I raced to my phone, found the letter and rang the Council whilst frantically doing the maths. My heart had dropped into my boots with fear.

I remembered clearly that when my new landlords met me, before they’d agreed with me being a tenant, they’d asked me “what’s the worst that could happen?” They were extremely nervy about accepting someone in My Situation.

They’d not dealt with the local Council before and pointed out that not having any savings left me in a vulnerable situation financially. I think they meant ‘left them in a vulnerable situation financially,’ not me.

I said in reply: “The worst that could happen is that my benefits are suspended pending an appeal against a decision from the DWP that I might be fit for work.”

“What will you do then?” they asked.

“I’ll appeal immediately,” I replied, “and I do have a guarantor so your rent will be assured.”

But in the back of my mind were the numerous DWP cock-ups that have happened in the past, since I’ve been on benefits: stopping my payments due to incorrect information about a DLA tribunal decision, stopping my benefits because of a house move and stopping my benefits because they said the ‘outcome of a recent work capability assessment said you are fit for work’ (I hadn’t had a WCA.)

Each time I’d had to muster up all the energy and brain power I had left, use mammoth amounts of money to call them, write to them and point out their errors. Each time they’d reinstated my benefits citing ‘administrative error.’

And my health had suffered, as well as my mind.

What had happened this time?

New Year’s Eve this year happened on a Friday. Then there was the weekend, then the bank holiday. I managed to get hold of someone working on New Year’s Eve at the Council and here’s what happened:

“I’ve opened up my bank account and the Housing Benefit payment you have confirmed to me is agreed, isn’t there. Where is it? My rent is due on Monday.”

“Let me have a look” said the calm voice.

I wait.

“Ah yes, I can see that the DWP suspended your payments…”

“What?? Why??”

“If I can stop you there. They suspended the payments due to the house move but I can see that they released them again but….it’s not been activated this end.”

“Really.”

“Yes. Yes, I’ve just unblocked the payment on the system at our end.”

“Well my rent is due on Monday, when will it be paid to me?”

“It’ll take 3 working days to be received so that means……..”he does the calculations,” Wednesday.”

My heart drops out of the bottom of my shoes and melts through the floor.

“You don’t understand, I have to pay my rent on Monday, my landlords, I had to persuade them to take me, had to promise them there would be no problems, I have to pay it. What about Discretionary Housing Payment, could I have that to pay it?”

“Er no. That’s not what it’s there for.”

“Well what am I supposed to do exactly?”

“I’m sorry but that’s how it is.”

“Yes, but this isn’t my fault, I’ve done everything my end properly, I’ve even had confirmation that it’s OK well within time for today’s date. Hang on, when did you receive the OK from the DWP that it could be paid?”

“Let me have a look. OK it was received on the 22nd December.”

I hear this and sit up straight. “The 22nd? So even before the Xmas closure? So basically your department has had over a week to notice this and action it and it’s only my calling and telling you that the payment hasn’t been made that you noticed?”

“Um. Well, we have been closed and there are a lot of flags, it would have taken someone to notice it to action it.”

“Exactly. Doesn’t your department have a system by which people sift notifications like that and prioritise? I’m sure I’m not the only person. What if I hadn’t checked and my standing order had gone out of my account? What if my landlords won’t accept the delay?”

“I’m sorry but there’s nothing more that we can do.”

“Happy.New. Year.” I say, before putting the phone down on him in disgust.

Now, for those of you with savings, an overdraft, a credit card or a partner or a friend who has any of those things, you’ll be thinking “Well crap, not good but I can scrape together the money from somewhere.”

Well, I don’t have any of those things.

So the perfect storm – exactly what my landlords said was the ‘worse that could happen’ happened.

I panicked. Yup I did. I wasn’t dressed and I got dressed and ran out of my house down to my bank, with the belief that they could help me. Then I remembered that they wouldn’t offer me a second bank account because I had no salary.

I texted my friends and my father. “Where do we expect the money to come from?” came the to be expected reply.

I stood with my heart pounding in the middle of the street and realised I was either going to have to call my sister, HS and ask her to ask my brother-in-law Guarantor to forward the money, something I was loathe to even consider, or …phone my landlords and tell them.

I stood in the middle of the main road and made the call.

No answer. I left a message. As I walked back down the street with wobbly legs to go home and email them, I missed a call and the message that was left was thick with anger and annoyance.

I emailed them. I sat there looking around my nice flat, my new home, my place of calm and healing and independence and thought: “I knew it was too good to be true.”

I knew it was too good to be true to trust the DWP and the local Council to make this go smoothly and without a hitch.

Every time it’s happened in the past it’s been due to an obvious cock-up from their end, something so blatantly wrong and inaccurate that my anger in having to sort it out for them has been topped by my anger at realising how damaging this is not only for me, but the thousands of others who have gone through this also.

My landlords, after hearing my profuse apologies and explanation and promise that it was all sorted out and they’d have the money on Wednesday, agreed.

On the following Wednesday I received it and received it again this month.

I’m writing this today because at my local Council, when a counter assistant was asked by me what they thought about Universal Credit said:

“Ha! It’ll NEVER come in. It’s a total shambles. They can’t sort out the problems with it where they are piloting it and there’s no way it works in the way they think it does.”

Believe them folks. Believe them – on Victoria Derbyshire right now, they are discussing it. Unless they do not sort out their own front yard with what exists at the moment, how the hell are they going to implement something new?

© Lindy 2016

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2 thoughts on “Diary Day 99: An Aside About The Housing Benefit Missing Xmas Payment Cock Up and Universal Credit

  1. My heart goes out to you Lindy. Appalling situation. So pleased your landlords were accommodating. I’m lucky as well in that my landlord has become an almost-friend though I haven’t yet – touch wood – had to test the relationship.

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    • And I hope you never have to in the same way, although I think that it’s essential to have supportive landlords and if they become friends, would see in a second that if – god forbid – anything like this DID happen, you didn’t deserve it and would support you in the same way.
      I did think about making a formal complaint to the Council but, you’ve guessed it, ran out of energy and haven’t.

      Like

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