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Nearly half of people referred to Trussell Trust food banks are in debt to the DWP

02 March 2022

With a looming cost-of-living crisis, people who cannot afford the essentials are being pushed deeper into poverty by a rising tide of Government debt, according to new Trussell Trust research.

Government debt can take many forms, including:

  • paying back Advance Payments given to people on Universal Credit to cover the five-week wait for their first benefit payment
  • paying back council tax debt to local authorities
  • repaying benefit or tax credit overpayments.

Many of these debts are deducted automatically from a claimant's Universal Credit or other benefit payments, often leaving them with incomes far below what is needed to afford the essentials.

Nearly half of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are in debt to the DWP.

People who have experience of being in debt to government have been working closely with the Trussell Trust and Humankind Research, to develop ideas for what a fairer repayment system might look like.

The participants drew out the following four recommendations:

  • Government must tackle the design features in the social security system which create debt, such as the necessity of taking on Advance Payment debts to cover the five-week wait for Universal Credit.
  • Government debt collection practices should embed the principles of clarity, flexibility and respect at their core – learning from best practice in the private sector.
  • Wider efforts are needed to increase resilience and protect people from destitution, by urgently strengthening the social security system, uprating payments in line with the actual rate of inflation this spring rather than the planned 3.1%.
  • Policymaking with and alongside people with lived experience, is needed to harness the insight and expertise others do not have.

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “Last month, The Food Foundation published new research highlighting that Disabled people are five times more likely to be at risk from food insecurity (lack of access to adequate food) compared to non-disabled people.

“The level of benefits paid to Disabled people is already inadequate. Deducting money from these makes a bad situation even worse. The
five-week wait time for Universal Credit (UC) means many have no
choice other than to take on an Advance Payment in order to be able to survive until UC. This in itself can trigger a spiral of debt”

The full report Debt to Government, Deductions and Destitution is available from trusselltrust.org.