DWP deducting on average £80 a month from Scottish families on UC

Exclusive: Report finds struggling families are having on average 10% of monthly income deducted to cover debt

Low-income families in Scotland are having on average 10% of their monthly income deducted by the Department for Work and Pensions to cover debts such as universal credit advances or school meals payments, according to research.

The report for Aberlour Children’s Charity, seen by the Guardian, found that families in receipt of universal credit (UC) are having their monthly income reduced on average by £80 to cover spiralling debt.

Reasons for deductions include universal credit advances, budgeting advances, tax credit overpayment, housing benefits overpayment owed to the DWP, as well as “third-party deductions” on behalf of local authorities and others for rent arrears, service charges and council tax payments.

Morag Treanor, a professor at the institute for social policy, housing and equalities research at Heriot-Watt University, collected freedom of information data on nearly 80,000 families across Scotland for the report, which found that more than a quarter of low-income families in receipt of UC had multiple deductions made by the DWP from their monthly income and more than half had at least one deduction.

Scotland has a higher proportion of families subject to multiple deductions from their monthly income by the DWP to cover debts to public bodies compared with England and Wales.

In June, another report by Treanor for Aberlour revealed the £1m scale of school meal debt and detailed an alarming rise in hidden hunger among pupils.

Treanor said: “Nearly six months later, seven councils have written this debt off, providing much relief to some of Scotland’s families. However, the majority have not. This new report demonstrates that over half of families with children in Scotland are trapped in a damaging cycle of poverty because of universal credit deductions.

“These findings are a crucial reminder that the UK government needs to act now to support low-income families we head into winter.”

Aberlour’s chief executive, SallyAnn Kelly, pointed out that while the charity had campaigned for the the Scottish child payment – boosted recently by the Scottish government – the research shows that tens of thousands of families eligible for it were not feeling the full benefit as it was being cancelled out by the debt deductions.

“Quite simply, Scotland’s poorest families are receiving help with one hand that is being taken away by the other.”

Aberlour is calling for a moratorium on all deductions from universal credit claimants, and those on legacy benefits, for a minimum of six months, as well as urging the Scottish government and local authorities to work together to write off all existing school meal debt and introduce legislation to bring public debt recovery in line with private sector regulation.

The DWP said: “The government recognises the importance of supporting the welfare of claimants who have incurred debt. We seek to balance recovery of debt against not causing hardship for claimants and their families.”


Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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