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‘Cut to the bone’ - our clients talk about life on Universal Credit

calendar07 February 2019

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

‘Cut to the bone’ - our clients talk about life on Universal Credit

Chances are, you’ve noticed Universal Credit making the headlines a lot lately. At CAP, we work directly with people who are being affected by it, so we asked them what it’s really like to apply for and receive Universal Credit.

Universal Credit – what is it?

The big idea behind Universal Credit is to simplify a range of benefits and tax credits into a single payment. It’s being rolled out in stages, so some people are already using it while others are still on the old system.

In theory, that all sounds sensible, but what do CAP’s clients say?

Making the switch

Just applying for Universal Credit can be a challenge. The lengthy form is online: great if you want to save trees, bad if you don’t have internet access, and 22% of our clients don’t have internet at home. Our client Alison* tried to apply over the phone instead, and this was her experience:

‘I was on hold forever and I didn’t have the money on my phone. I have no Internet at home so I walked to my local library which is quite far away... The form was quite long and I only had one hour to complete it. I did struggle to remember my past addresses. I’ve been homeless before and have had lots of care-of addresses, so it’s hard. The ID was also tricky because I’ve never had a passport. I had to buy new copies of my birth certificate.’

Once the claim is in, there’s a five week wait before the first payment. That’s five weeks without the benefits you’ve been living on. One single mum resorted to selling her belongings and another client was threatened with eviction because they couldn’t pay the rent during this time.

Getting in debt

To cover that five-week gap, there are ‘advances’ available. These are interest-free loans. While there’s no denying it’s good to have something to live on, it immediately puts you in the position of owing money that you have to repay within the space of a year. So as soon as you switch to Universal Credit, there’s a chance you’ll be in debt.

Everyone we spoke to said the repayments were too high for them to afford. One client said: ‘I read one line on a website that said, “We will take it back from your payments at a rate you can afford”. Well I shouldn’t have trusted them... as soon as I got the award for the benefits, I was down to £60 a month straight away.’

In practical terms, this meant people fell behind with household bills and had to use foodbanks.

But another side to debt and Universal Credit is that debts can be collected from your monthly payments, and some people are surprised at the proportion that can be taken for this. Imagine paying your rent and then having almost a third (30%) of your remaining income taken away. What would you have to go without to make ends meet?

Another of our clients said: ‘Every month, I’m ringing people to say I can’t pay, even though I’ve only got very small bills. I pay £9 a month for phone, I don’t have internet, I don’t have Sky or anything like that. Everything is cut down to the bone and I’m still living hand-to-mouth. I try not to go to the food bank when I don’t have to but I’ve always been using the foodbank while I’ve been on this benefit.’

Surviving day-to-day

If you’re on a low income then, put simply, you need to be brilliant at budgeting to get by. You might have heard that switching to Universal Credit means any fortnightly benefits you received move to monthly payments. But what’s less well known is that Universal Credit payments can fluctuate dramatically, and clients said they often didn’t know how much money they would be getting that month.

‘I work 22 hours a week and I find it very difficult to budget because my Universal Credit payment fluctuates so much. It’s never what they say it’s going to be. I look at my online account and it shows a figure but you can’t rely on it. It can be a big change, like £300.’

This is particularly a problem for clients who have paid jobs. If their wages come in more frequently than once a month then the system may miscalculate how much Universal Credit they’re owed.

What’s more, Universal Credit will cover up to 85% of a claimant’s childcare costs (up to a limit), but you still have to pay these costs up front and then reclaim them. Most single parents on low incomes simply don’t have the money to do this. Sadly, one of our clients lost their childcare place while waiting for their first Universal Credit payment, which then led to them then losing their job.

It’s safe to say there’s a lot of problems here. But that’s perhaps unsurprising with such a huge system, which will eventually be used by one in four UK households. The good news is there are people in government who are keen to listen to CAP’s voice and make the changes needed to make Universal Credit really work.

Want to know more about what our clients said about Universal Credit? We’ve produced a series of papers sharing the results of our survey. They’re full of stories from our clients’ real experiences.

Read more



*Client names changed to protect privacy

You are loved

calendar07 February 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

You are loved

By the nature of the work we do here at CAP, we meet lots of particularly vulnerable people, many of whom struggle with mental ill-health. The truth is that mental ill-health and poverty are an incredibly dangerous combination, but sadly a very common one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, poverty can often have a knock-on effect on a person’s wellbeing, just as mental health struggles can contribute to poverty.  As a result, more than a third of our clients have considered or attempted to end their own life before seeking help.

Of course, this is not the answer. No matter how desperate things may seem, we know that there’s always hope. As Christians, we’re called to demonstrate God’s love and to show people how valued and treasured they are.

And that’s exactly what the amazing CNI Network (Christian Nightlife Initiatives) is doing through their new campaign, Loved, which aims to spread positivity to people that need it, particularly those struggling to cope with life.

The CNI Network is the organisation behind Street Angels, who you’ll probably have seen, even if you haven’t heard of them. In their high visibility jackets, Street Angels brave the cold to go out into town and city centres across the UK late at night, looking out for vulnerable people and keeping them safe.

‘Often alcohol and drugs can cause emotions to heighten and our teams are available to chat, help, listen and care,’ says Paul Blakely, who founded the network. ‘One team of Street Angels was sharing with me that a young man approached them asking for help because he wanted to end his life. The team walked him to A&E where they sat with him, got him a coffee, listened and reassured him before the A&E team could take over at 5am.’

It’s encounters like this that became the basis of the Loved campaign, which is designed to reach people experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as trauma, depression and other mental health struggles. They’re placing posters, art, messages and even team members in risk areas, as well as online, in churches and across communities, to remind people that there’s always a way out and a brighter future ahead.

‘The idea was sparked by several conversations that took place following some tragic events in our community. Sadly, almost daily, for a few weeks in late December 2018 and early January 2019, several people ended their lives or contemplated doing this. The Calderdale Methodist Circuit, Calderdale Chaplains and CNI Network joined together to put some Angels with positive messages in key places over Christmas and in January and we felt that this needed to continue.’

‘Together we are demonstrating God's kingdom of love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, transformation as a reality for people and communities – we are people of hope sharing hope for others. Our everyday and ordinary, achieving the profound and world changing.’

The Loved campaign website is full of ideas and downloadable resources to help you bring hope to those who are struggling. You could make a huge difference to a person’s life just by letting them know how much you care.

A similar campaign by Samaritans, Small Talk Saves Lives, encourages us to strike up a conversation with people who we think are struggling, even if they’re a stranger on the train. As Brits, we like to keep ourselves to ourselves, but this campaign is all about the power of a simple hello, a kind word or a quick chat. As Samaritans say, ‘Small talk doesn’t just break the ice… it can also interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts’.

So, let me end by saying this: you are loved. You are important. You matter. You are beloved by the creator of the stars above you and the earth beneath your feet. Take care of yourself and take care of one another. You can make it through this, but you don’t have to make it through on your own. Talk to someone, today.

Need some room to breathe?

calendar04 February 2019

Claire Wong's avatar Claire Wong

Need some room to breathe?

Imagine you’re drowning in debt. There’s someone hammering on your door, saying you need to pay up. You want to pay back what you owe, but you need help, and you need more time. If only the knocking at the door would stop…

What is Breathing Space?

Breathing Space is a fixed period of time when creditors stop contacting the person who owes them money. It means no visits, no letters, no phonecalls chasing you for your debts. This is to give people in debt a fighting chance to get crucial advice and support. It’s where we can step in to start a client on their journey out of debt.

Why has CAP released a paper on this?

The government has put together its proposals for how to run Breathing Space (and also something they’re calling the ‘statutory debt repayment plan’), and they’ve asked for feedback. It’s great that we get to be part of the discussion on issues like this. We’re committed to being a voice for our clients, and we respond with their needs in mind.

So what does the proposal say and what’s CAP’s view?

Read CAP's paper here



The two big headlines proposed are:

  1. Breathing Space: your creditors leave you alone for 60 days while you get advice on a repayment plan.
  2. A statutory debt repayment plan – anyone repaying their debts through this scheme would be safe from creditors taking action against them.


Here are some key things we’ve said in response:

  • On the whole, we support Breathing Space. It gives people a chance to call us and start their journey out of debt, and we’re always keen for that to happen.
  • However, we believe it’s important that all creditors take a step back during this time (no more relentless phone calls, frightening letters, or visits from enforcement agents). Otherwise there’s a risk it becomes too stressful and difficult to engage with a debt repayment plan.
  • For example, the proposal excludes fraudulent debts & court fines the same way they wouldn’t be covered if you were going through insolvency, but we’re arguing this doesn’t need to be the case because Breathing Space is very different to insolvency!
  • We’re against the idea of a public register of everyone on Breathing Space. The thought of being on a register could really put people off asking for the help they need.
  • We’d like to see interest and charges paused for anyone on this scheme, but only if this won’t affect their credit file by showing up as a default.
  • While we understand a statutory debt repayment plan will appear on a debtor’s credit file, we believe that as soon as the plan is completed and the debts gone, they should have a clean slate. We believe in giving people a fresh start!
  • We like giving people the option of payment breaks, so that if life suddenly changes (maybe you’re in hospital or lose your job) you can have a break from making repayments.
  • Last of all, we know that life can be busy and complicated when you’re in debt. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything you owe, so we’d like there to be a way to add debts to the repayment plan after it’s started, in case something has been missed.

That’s great, but will CAP’s voice be heard?

The good news is that the government is listening to us! Our recommendations have already led to some changes. We asked for a safeguard so people wouldn’t be forced into having a Pre-Payment Meter fitted, and it happened. Then we asked for the option not to include rent arrears in the repayment plan to protect people worried about eviction. You guessed it, they said yes to that too!


This year (2019) we should see Breathing Space become a reality and the government is set to announce next steps for the statutory debt plan soon.


Want to know more?

Read the full report here

‘You are my last hope.’

calendar14 January 2019

Sheree Morris's avatar Sheree Morris

‘You are my last hope.’

Ring, ring.

‘Good morning, you’re speaking to Sheree. Are you calling about debt help?’

As soon as I pick up the phone, all my senses are finely tuned to the story about to unfold before me.

Every story is different, but they all have the same, strong thread running through them: desperation, hopelessness and despair.

The calls are coming in thick and fast now, one after another after another.

People have heard we can help and are so, so desperate to talk with someone who will listen, someone who might be able to shine a tiny light into their own situation.

‘I don’t know what to do.’

‘I feel so alone.’

‘I’m being hounded by bailiffs.’

All common conversations I have with people everyday.

‘I have 64p left in my purse to last for the next two weeks.’

‘I don’t have any food for my children.’

Then the unimaginable comes out of their mouth: ‘I can’t do this anymore, I actually don’t have anyone in my life at the moment, you are my last hope’.

Last hope… last hope… last hope… It’s ringing in my ears. How can I begin to turn this around, how can I leave them in a better place than when they called in?

This is no longer just the debt and the constant worry. It’s the emotional and physical impact it has on them and those around them. It’s the constant wearing down of them until they have nothing left anymore.

How can this be? How can things have gotten so bad that people feel such desperation? They’ve summoned every ounce of energy to make this call.

This is a life and death situation. For some, they‘ve made the decision that this is intended to be the last call they ever make.

Quickly, I check that there is a CAP centre in their postcode area whilst keeping them talking, offering them a vital connection to a person who will listen, a real person, not an automated voice.

Can I offer them the lifeline they need? Can I give them the vital link that’s missing in their life - someone to deal with the creditors on their behalf, someone who will finally turn their situation around?

Yes! Thankfully we have a centre in their area. I say a silent prayer as a thank you to those who have supported CAP over the years so that we don’t have to turn this person away.

I hear the words coming out of my mouth. ’We can help you. You won’t have to do this on your own anymore. We are here for you and we are going to support you and see you become debt free.’

As I continue with the call, taking more details and booking them an appointment, I can hear the change in their voice. There is a new lightness about them.

‘Last hope’ ringing in my ears has now been replaced by, ‘Thank you… thank you… thank you’.

Wow, I can’t begin to explain how this feels. I feel in a very privileged position to be able to do such a small thing, but to hear the massive difference this small thing can make to a person’s life.

Ring, ring. Another call is coming in.

Need help? Start your journey out of debt.

Help bring hope to more families in desperate need.

Could your church open a CAP centre?

Sheree Morris joined CAP five years ago and has worked as an Operator in the New Enquiries team ever since.

Let’s beat the January blues and have the best 2019

calendar08 January 2019

Joseph Allison's avatar Joseph Allison

Let’s beat the January blues and have the best 2019

We’re all familiar with the January blues. That low feeling that hits hard following the chaotic excitement of our Christmas and New Year celebrations. The wintery weather somehow feels a lot less festive once the family has gone home and the decorations have been taken down. Suddenly it’s 2019 and it’s all back to normal.

With the world being as it is at the moment, whether it’s world politics, work, family or personal circumstances, it can be easy for pessimism to overwhelm us. That’s why it’s so important to put measures in place to boost your mood and get you looking forward to the year ahead. Here are some easy ways to set yourself up and make your January that little bit less blue.

1. Set clear, achievable goals

New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, but much harder to keep. Often we lose momentum because we have no concrete, specific plan to stick to. This January, how about setting some practical targets that you can clearly hold yourself accountable for? For example, instead of aiming to ‘lose weight’, resolve to go for a 30-minute run once a week. Or instead of saying you want to ‘get a job’, set a goal of applying for one job each day, at a set time that works for you.

2. Save some cash, achieve some dreams

Here’s an idea: save just £1 a day for the next 365 days. Whether you’re saving up for a holiday or a future project, having something to look forward to (and knowing that you’ll have gathered the money for it by the time it comes around) is one way to keep your mind focused on the future and stay positive. If there’s nothing specific you’d like to save towards, why not put a pot aside with a target goal to give to charity at the end of the year, or start a ‘rainy day’ savings pot?

3. Change someone’s world

It’s impossible to not feel good when we see the positive impact of our actions on somebody else’s life, right? That’s because doing something charitable releases endorphins in our brain, which has a similar effect on our body to morphine! Have a think about what you could do to help and support those around you. Something as simple as offering a listening ear or some words of affirmation can bring hope to a person’s day and in doing so bring hope to yours too.

If you want to stretch even further, why not volunteer your time to help some people you don’t even know? There are lots and lots of great charities out there that would definitely appreciate a helping hand – and you’ll have fun and make friends along the way. CAP centres are often in need of volunteers to come on board as befrienders and group service helpers – find out more about getting involved here.

4. Learn a new skill

Getting creative or learning a new skill is an ideal way to gain a sense of achievement and boost your confidence. How about making jam, learning a new language, researching your family history or knitting a scarf? It’ll give you a way to focus your mind, plus you’ll have something to be proud of in the end. If you make something, you could even give away your creations as gifts.

5. Celebrate!

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate when good things happen. The day to day routine can leave life feeling like a bit of a slog, so remember to treasure the little wins and move your focus away from the negative. Maybe you could treat yourself after achieving a few of the goals you set in step one or even just tell someone about the positive things happening your life. When people all around the world celebrate on New Year’s Eve, it’s because we’re treasuring the chance to start anew with fresh motivation, optimism and enthusiasm for the year ahead. Isn't it time we added a bit of that zest to the other 364 days?

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