Having phoned ESA a couple of days ago, today I phoned UC to tell them that ESA had told me that they needed to send a form to ESA to say that I’m now in receipt of UC.
ESA kindly keep paying me until they get said form, so that I’m not left without any money. Which is fine, except that it means I’ve basically been given a compulsory advance loan (in fact, three of them so far) which UC will have to recoup by reducing my future payments. And given that ESA is worth almost twice as much as UC, that’s a lot of future deductions before I’ll have paid it off.
I’m fortunate. I still have some savings, which I’m using for all the set-up costs of moving into a new home and as a buffer whilst I work out how much I can actually afford to spend on food and bills. I also have family both able and willing to help out, and a church to whom I’m confident I could turn. I’ve already had friends walk my dog, cook my meals, go shopping, hang out laundry, sort recycling and do some cleaning. There are a number of people I know would be pleased to feed me (though not happy that I needed food) if I turned up on their doorstep asking for dinner. So, I’m not stressed about money.
More importantly, I’m not using my over-payments to pay necessary bills such as rent and utilities. So when the DWP does want the money back, I’ll be able (I think and hope) to manage on the reduced UC payments. It would be very difficult to decline to pay a bill that was due on the grounds that I’ll need the money in a few months’ time to pay the same company… And it wouldn’t make sense. You wouldn’t fail to pay a bill now on the grounds that you can’t afford both this month’s and some future month’s bill. You’d pay whilst you could, and reduce your future usage whilst hoping that something will come up to help you out of this DWP-dug heffalump trap.
I also had to query with UC why I haven’t had a 14% reduction from my housing costs element. I’m in shared ownership with a housing association, in a two-bed flat with a non-dependant lodger. If I count as a social tenant, I should be having 14% taken off because I have a spare bedroom. On the plus side, any rent I charge my lodger isn’t counted as income. I don’t know if any contribution to bills from my lodger would count as income, but currently it’s immaterial as I’m not charging my lodger for bills because I know her finances are constrained.
I can’t find anything online about whether rent in shared ownership counts as private or social tenancy. The closest I’ve found is this, from this entitledto page on shared ownership: “You might also be eligible for Housing Benefit to help with your rent and/or service charge, whether or not you are eligible for mortage costs… Select “council or housing association tenant”, enter your rent and then see if you can get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit Housing element.”
That looks to me like I’m a social tenant and should be subject to the Bedroom Tax.
So that’s another overpayment that will have to be taken from future UC payments.
Unless, of course, ESA get round to telling UC that I am/was in the ESA Support Group, and UC therefore tops up all my benefit to the UC support group equivalent plus repaying the deductions due to earned income that, in the UC SG equivalent, would have fallen within the disregard threshold. In which case, there may or may not be any deductions to make to account for the continued payment of ESA and the full payment of my housing costs.
I’ve added a note to my UC journal in the ‘payments’ section to explain the above issues, as otherwise I’d have no written record to prove that I have told the DWP of these things.
I hope that UC will now tell ESA to stop paying me, as I have asked UC to, but it shouldn’t have needed me to phone ESA and be told to phone UC to tell them to speak to ESA.
And I hope that someone at some point will calculate what money I should have received and therefore whether I owe the DWP money or vice versa. It would be quite nice if this would happen before winter, so I know whether the money I have in my account is available for spending on heating or needs to be saved for future food.