Hartlepool construction worker left on the brink after problems with new benefit system

Stephen Barter with his wife Sheila and some of the numerous bank statements he was asked to produce during his problematic Universal Credit claim.  Picture by FRANK REID

Stephen Barter with his wife Sheila and some of the numerous bank statements he was asked to produce during his problematic Universal Credit claim. Picture by FRANK REID

A construction worker says he struggled to pay his rent when he tried to claim a new type of benefit.

Stephen Barter, 59, became so frustrated in trying to claim for Universal Credit that he gave up after 15 weeks.

Stephen Barter with his wife Sheila.  Picture by FRANK REID

Stephen Barter with his wife Sheila. Picture by FRANK REID

Mr Barter, of the Fens, Hartlepool, says his initial claim was stopped by the Department for Work and Pensions when he did not attend an appointment he told them he could not make due to undergoing a knee replacement operation.

His fresh claim ran into difficulties when the DWP questioned what wages he had received and officials repeatedly asked for proof by way of bank statements.

Mr Barter’s latest work contract finished at the end of January.

He said he told the DWP he would not be able to attend an appointment abpout his claim on February 20 at Hartlepool Job Centre due to recovering from his operation less than two weeks earlier so the claim was suspended.

Mr Barter, who previously claimed Jobseekers Allowance when he was in between jobs, said: “For some reason they got it into their head that I was still getting paid.

“That was their excuse for putting it off and putting it off. If I was getting paid I wouldn’t have been there.”

He added: “It is supposed to be six weeks from the start of the claim to receiving the first payment.

“But because I had to reclaim after the six weeks that was 12 weeks, and I was on week 13 or 14 when I received an initial payment of £290 to pay some bills.

“It caused quite a bit of grief anxiety wise. It impacted not just on me but my family as well.

“We were living on my wife’s pension.”

He later received a single payment of £314.

Mr Barter’s wife Sheila added: “It has taken its toll on us both. We couldn’t pay the rent or anything.

“It was absolutely ridiculous. If I hadn’t been on a pension we wold probably have been homeless.”

Universal Credit replaces a range of different benefits.

The DWP said the majority of claimants are confident in managing their money and they work closely with local authorities to support those who need extra help.

A spokesperson said: “Universal Credit payments mirror the way many people in work are paid.

“Budgeting support, benefit advances, and direct rent payments to landlords are available to those who need them.

“Jobcentre staff have been supporting Mr Barter to make sure he gets his Universal Credit.”