I was so excited to be offered a part-time job – so I tried to find out what Universal Credit I would get | Sophia

I have started a new job – my first paid job in my early 20s – and it has done wonders for my mental health. The food bank where I have been volunteering four days a week for a few years offered me a part-time position and I was so happy to take it, even though it was daunting. I was out of paid work for so long that I had lost a lot of confidence, but this job made me feel much better about myself.

What hasn’t been great is managing the universal credit system. I have been on the allowance since it was introduced and I have been trying to find out what financial assistance I will be entitled to now that I am working part time. I thought it should be pretty easy because the government supposedly wants people back to work, but I ran into brick walls.

Citizens Advice said they couldn’t give me accurate information, and I tried using online benefit calculators, but got different results on different sites – sometimes up to 4,000 £ difference. How can I use it as a guide? I wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions via the ‘diary’ you have in your online account, which is your record of everything you have done and your messages. They said they couldn’t tell me, it was all done in retrospect and I just had to wait for it to happen. I decided to take the job, although it was a bit of a leap of faith, and I let them know the day I started working.

I started at the end of August, and I still don’t know what Universal Credit I will get. The statement they sent me at the end of September had not changed, and I wrote to say that I thought they overpaid me and asked them to check. I was told to fill out an online form, which I did, and a few minutes after hitting the submit button, I received another message telling me there was a letter to read. This letter said that I had informed them too late – that they had needed the information three days earlier – and that they could fine me, unless I had a good reason why I had made this mistake.

But I didn’t know what I had done wrong and what information they wanted, because no one had ever told me to do anything – it was only me who contacted them, to check that I didn’t. hadn’t been overpaid, which set off this chain of events. Then I was told that I had to write to the “decision makers”, even if the whole trail is in black and white on the newspaper. Then the person I was texting told me that he had sent them something, although he didn’t tell me what, and I just had to wait. I received a message saying that they can’t give me a time frame, that they are working “in priority” and that they don’t ask when a decision could be made because they can’t tell me. Due to trial period deadlines, I may have to wait until the end of November to find out how much money I will receive. I still have a potential fine hanging over me, but I’m going to fight because I’ve always been honest and done what I thought I had to do.

Not knowing my total income means I’m even more careful with money than before I started working because I don’t know how much will go to my landlord and how much rent I’ll have to pay, or if the DWP will deduct money. money from future payments if it turns out that they overpaid me. It’s still a case of lots of layers and no heating. I came home from work today. I could have taken the bus, but it was £2 which could go towards something else.

When Universal Credit was introduced the government said it was to help people get back to work, but my experience has been incredibly frustrating and difficult. They told me I had to submit my earnings every month, but there was no correspondence telling me that – I had to ask them what to do. They said I would get a prompt to put my earnings into the system, but I haven’t received it yet. From the start, I didn’t know if I would be better off financially if I took the job. I took it anyway, thinking if I didn’t do it now I never would, but I did it with my fingers crossed and hoping.

It was never just a question of money for me. I got my first payslip, a new thing for me, and I felt a lot of pride and self-esteem. I’m still happy to have taken the job, I have no regrets. It gave me confidence and I feel better about myself. I already knew what the job would be like and I love it. But I see people walking through the door of the food bank who are already struggling with their mental health, and I don’t know if I would advise them to seek employment – ​​which will likely be low-paying and stressful when they already have to count every penny. — given that they would have to handle the pressure of navigating the Universal Credit System to figure out what extras they might get. If my new job wasn’t something I loved, would I have gone there knowing what I know now?

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