Almost half of families using food banks are repaying Universal Credit debt

47% of households using food banks during the summer owed money to the Department for Work and Pensions due to loans and overpayments of benefits – compared to 37% before the pandemic hit.

The Trussell Trust has published a new report revealing that almost half of households at food banks (47%), who already struggling to make ends meet, face the stress of having money deducted from their benefits payments by the government.

The charity says 73% of households on Universal Credit at food banks over the summer were repaying an advance payment to the government. Advance payments are largely taken out by people to cover the five-week wait for a first payment. This is because everyone who applies for Universal Credit must wait at least five weeks for their money to start coming through – the government offers people a one-off payment to cover this wait, but that payment must be paid back.

The charity says that paying back an advance payment, or repaying an overpayment after a system error, makes it harder for people to afford the essentials and can affect people’s mental health.

More than half of households (53%) at food banks who said they owed money to the government through a loan included someone living with mental health problems. This compares to 30% of households which did not report anyone with mental health problems.

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust said: “Our welfare system should increase people’s security, not suffering.

“Right now, the government is taking money from the benefit payments of many people using food banks. Taking money off payments to repay these debts makes it much harder for people to afford the essentials and can impact on people’s mental health – this isn’t okay.”

The charity is urging the government to “stop taking money from people’s pockets through the winter months until a more responsible and just system is put in place.”

They say government debt collection should be brought closer to that practised in the private sector, which has improved its practice significantly, assessing people’s ability to pay before recovering debts.

Ms Revie said: “This would help people on the lowest incomes to keep every penny of their benefits to help afford the absolute essentials, instead of needing to turn to a food bank for help.”

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