A woman imminently expecting her first child has been told she will need to survive on just a penny per month following a change in her Universal Credit payments, which were slashed "without her knowledge" and left her to live off 1p per month.
Twenty-nine-weeks-pregnant mum-to-be Keeley Sheppard is moving into a new home and was expecting to receive £500 ($658) per month. However, her payments were recently stopped almost entirely and without prior warning, she claims.
Keeley and partner, Dan Pye, expect their baby to arrive at Christmas and had been living with her father and stepmother when they decided to switch to a join Universal Credit claim.
"We were both on single universal credit claims before," said Keeley of Lechdale in Gloucestershire. "Everything was fine, we went to appointments, did all that stuff. We went onto a joint claim because we were moving in together. It wasn't until last month when we logged on to our UC account and found out we were getting paid a penny."
A claimant can have their UC payments reduced if they fail to fulfil activities related to obtaining them, but Keeley said she hadn't been given an explanation for her sanction, leaving her with no choice but to take out a £300 ($395) Recoverable Hardship Loan from the job centre.
According to the government's website, Universal Credit is a monthly payment to help those in need with living costs, primarily those on low income or out of work. It's contingent on location and circumstances and replaced child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, JSA, ESA and working tax credit.
It was introduced by David Cameron's Conservative government in 2013 to replace the above benefits/credits and was heavily criticised by a variety of bodies, including unions, Women's Aid, academics and other organisations.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May attends a press conference in Brussels
Theresa May's policy is in place. Credit: PA
This month, Keeley and Dan's universal payment increased to £40 ($53) but remains well below what they had expected.
"In the last month I have been told, because I'm 29 weeks pregnant now, that I can only be sanctioned up to 20 percent, if I am sanctioned," she said. "But I've been sanctioned pretty much fully."
Her step mother suffers from Fibromyalgia - a long-term condition causing pain all over the body - and her 16-year-old sister also lives at the same flat. She said: "It's all five of us on my dad's wage.
"Obviously, our UC helps them out a little bit and my dad can't afford to keep all of us, he's trying his hardest, we're making it work to a certain point but it is hard. They just keep saying the same thing: 'you're just going to have to ask for another loan this month'."
Prime Minister Theresa May has so far refused to pause the rollout of University Credit, which is only now coming into full effect, despite critics claiming it puts various people, including vulnerable families, at risk.
Words: Ronan O'Shea
Featured Image Credit: SWNS