UK food bank trust says half of users repaying universal credit debts

Food bank users more commonly in debt to government than to friends or payday loan firms

It is now more common for people using food banks to be in debt to the government than to family and friends or payday loan companies, the Trussell Trust has said.

The UK’s biggest food bank network said half of all households visiting food banks struggled to afford essential goods such as food and clothes because they were repaying universal credit debts.

The organisation said monthly deductions taken from claimants’ payments – in most cases to pay back a universal credit advance loan – could reduce household incomes by up to a third.

The trust has called on ministers to freeze all universal credit deductions to give struggling families a financial breathing space. It argues it is unreasonable to expect them to be able to repay debts when they cannot afford basic essentials.

The most common deduction made by the Department for Work and Pensions is made in repayment of advance loans issued to tide claimants over during the minimum five-week wait for a first universal credit payment. Deductions are also made for benefit overpayment errors.

A record 5.7 million people were supported by universal credit in October – a near doubling since March, when lockdown began to take its toll on the economy. About 1.3 million new claimants were issued with advances between March and June.

“Our welfare system should increase people’s security, not suffering. But right now the government is taking money from the benefit payments of many people using food banks,” said the trust’s chief executive, Emma Revie. “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 OK.

“With the pandemic continuing to hit people’s incomes, the government must pause taking money from benefit payments over the winter months until a more responsible and just system that offers security and support is in place. 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.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have announced a £400m package of support for this winter and beyond, including £170m to help families stay warm and well fed, millions in support for food aid charities and £220m to help children through the holiday activities and food programme.”

Contributor

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Universal credit 'sending people into arms of loan sharks'
Debt charity says Tories’ flagship welfare project forcing claimants into destitution

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

23, Jan, 2020 @12:01 AM

Article image
Welfare sanctions make vulnerable reliant on food banks, says YMCA
Report by charity criticises ‘head in the sand’ policy on benefit sanctions as being behind significant increase in food poverty

Patrick Butler, social policy editor

13, Nov, 2014 @12:57 PM

Article image
Emma Revie: Why food banks must never become the norm
The new Trussell Trust chief executive on the food bank charity’s alarming ‘success’, and partnering with Asda

Patrick Butler

24, Apr, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Food bank demand up 54% in 2013

Increase in usage comes from poor in affluent areas due to rise in food prices while disposable income fell, says charity report

Maev Kennedy

09, Jun, 2014 @5:05 AM

Article image
Universal credit rollout not expected to increase food bank use, MPs told
Junior minister says government listening to concerns after Labour passed advisory motion calling for rollout to be paused

Peter Walker Political correspondent

24, Oct, 2017 @3:59 PM

Article image
'I'm scared to eat sometimes': UN envoy meets UK food bank users
Poverty rapporteur visits Newcastle, where universal credit began, to gauge scale of hardship and hunger

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

08, Nov, 2018 @10:42 AM

Article image
Food banks warn of smaller parcels due to HGV supply shortages
Exclusive: declining stocks and expected higher demand for charity could see struggling families given less in their food parcels

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

04, Oct, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Universal credit leading to rise in food bank use, charity says
Trussell Trust says benefits system is failing to protect claimants from hunger

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

06, Nov, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
Food banks report record demand amid universal credit chaos
Charity calls for immediate reduction in six-week wait for first benefit payment after handing out 1,182,954 emergency parcels

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

24, Apr, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
People with 'nowhere else to turn' fuel rise in food bank use – study
Trussell Trust says it gave out a record 1.3m food parcels last year, up 13% on 2016-17

Patrick Butler and Pamela Duncan

23, Apr, 2018 @11:01 PM