(Image: Devon Live).
A young couple in Devon were left facing homelessness because of an error with Universal Credit rent payments which resulted in them being forced to sleeping rough. Their distressing circumstances of destitution and severe hardship resulted in Debbie Ballard, aged 23, to suffer a miscarriage.
Debbie and her partner, Ryan Gifford, were forced to spend 15 nights sheltering in a car park after a DWP error meant that an ‘automatic’ rent payment was missed.
The couple say they became homeless just before Christmas. It happened after being moved onto Universal Credit. A rent payment was missed and their landlord subsequently evicted them.
They are now staying in emergency accommodation, but the terrible damage has already been done as they have lost their unborn child.
Debbie said: “Losing my baby makes me feel like s**t. I feel useless and worthless. And now I have lost another baby.
“I was about six weeks pregnant when we were street homeless in December. I had a miscarriage because of all the stress.
“All we want is a chance for us to be a proper family.”
Before they were evicted, the couple were living in a flat, but were switched onto the new benefits system when they had a row, and Ryan took Debbie off his claim. However, due to the change in circumstance, they were automatically switched onto Universal Credit.
Originally, their rent was paid directly to the landlord but a payment was missed in the changeover and the pair were evicted due to being in arrears.
Debbie said: “We were living in a flat. It was full of mould and rats outside and we had made complaints to the landlords.
“Our Housing Benefit was being paid direct to the landlord but when it switched over to Universal Credit he said we were in arrears and served us with a notice and said he would take us to court.”
The couple say they did not receive any notification letters about the changeover to Universal Credit, and before they realised, their housing benefit was stopped and it was too late.
Debbie said: “It’s too late now. We should have been told that before we were made homeless.
“They said it was because of a change in circumstances. We were without money for eight weeks. We were literally begging and borrowing from everybody we knew.
“At the beginning of December, we had 15 days sleeping on the streets because of Universal Credit. We were sleeping in a car park on the harbour. It was really horrible.
“It was so cold at night. If you go down to the bottom car park near the Harvester pub it’s warm in there.
“But there’s an alarm that goes off every 10 minutes for 20 seconds.
“You can’t sleep but it’s warmer.
“We have to pay £20 a time to wash and dry our clothes because there’s no washing facilities in temporary accommodation. Everything is really expensive. It’s really hard.”
Ryan said: “We lost our home when we were switched over to Universal Credit. Now we are expected to live on a joint sum of £161 a month.”
“I want Universal Credit to stop. I think that now Universal Credit is coming in properly it’s going to get a lot worse. It’s going to be a nightmare.
“Anybody who has a drink or drug habit is going to be shoplifting to feed their habits.”
Debbie and Ryan received support from local homelessness charity People Assisting Torbay’s Homeless, where they now volunteer.
“When we were on the streets you felt like you were taking one step forward and four steps back.
“Now we are in emergency accommodation and we are expected to live on £161 a month.
“I am trying my hardest but I hit barriers everywhere I go.”
PATH chairman Kath Friedrich said: “There is nothing wrong with the theory of Universal Credit. On paper it’s fine.
“But what’s causing all these problems is that all these pre-payment, backdated loans are handed out like sweeties to people who do not have budgeting skills while they are waiting for their Universal Credits.
“Then when they finally get their money all the loans are deducted. We’ve got lots of people coming in here who are only getting £10 a week to live on.
“Sometimes they are paying back old loans they didn’t even know they had.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We are working with Mr Gifford to support him with his Universal Credit claim.
“If requested we can arrange for rent to be paid directly to the landlord.”
The Department are very good at delivering ad hoc platitudes that are all to often founded on glib promises of rather too little too late, increasingly frequently with tragic consequences.
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