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Almost half of people at food banks have money taken by government from benefit payments during economic crisis

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  • The Trussell Trust says 47% of households surveyed at food banks during the summer owed money to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) due to loans and overpayments of benefits – this is compared to 37% at the start of the year before the pandemic hit
  • Almost three out of four households on Universal Credit at food banks over the summer were repaying an advance payment to the government, a loan primarily taken out to cover the five-week wait for a first payment
  • The charity is urging the government to stop taking money from people’s pockets through the winter months until a more just system is put in place and is asking everyone to join its campaign to build a Hunger Free Future

The Trussell Trust has published a new report Lift the Burden revealing that one in two households at food banks (47%), already struggling to make ends meet, face the stress of having money deducted from their benefits payments by the government.

The charity says 73% of households on Universal Credit at food banks over the summer were repaying an advance payment to the government. Advance payments are largely taken out by people to cover the five-week wait for a first payment. This is because everyone who applies for Universal Credit must wait at least five weeks for their money to start coming through – the government offers people a one-off payment to cover this wait, but that payment must be paid back.

Paying back an advance payment, or repaying an overpayment after a system error, makes it harder for people to afford the essentials and can affect people’s mental health. More than half of households (53%) at food banks where someone was living with mental health problems reported they owed money to the government through a loan. This compares to 30% of households which did not report anyone with mental health problems.

The charity is urging the government to stop taking money from people’s pockets through the winter months until a more responsible and just system is put in place. This should help bring government debt collection closer to that practised in the private sector which has improved its practice significantly, assessing people’s ability to pay before recovering debts.

It is also urging everyone to help end the need for food banks by joining its Hunger Free Future campaign.

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust said:

“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. 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 okay.

“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.

“We need change this Christmas to create a system that works for everyone. That’s why we’re also calling on everyone to help end the need for food banks by joining our campaign to create a Hunger Free Future.”

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