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Ex-NHS worker wins DWP appeal against Universal Credit cut after being forced to live on vegetable juice

MyLondon 03/10/2022 Catherine Furze & Andrew Brookes

A former NHS worker was living on vegetable juice and refused to use his oven after having universal credit cut. But he has now won a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) appeal to get his benefits back.

Errol Livingstone, who worked as a calls handler during the Covid-19 pandemic, had his benefits docked by £88 from his monthly payment of £319.84. The 57-year-old slammed the Job Centre, saying the shortfall called him extreme hardship at a time when the cost of living was already putting a strain on his budget.

ChronicleLive reports Errol has lived on cartons of pure vegetable juice, fresh orange juice and fruit at times. He also occasionally has to accept food from his elderly mother and regularly searches for reduced items at supermarkets.

READ NEXT: Six reasons your Universal Credit payments can be cut

He claims he was sanctioned by the Job Centre for not going to a course which he believed he didn't need to attend because of his experience in recruitment, before later being told he should have been there. Errol said: "The sanctions don't give you any right to reply or respond to the accusations, they are just imposed on you.

"I go on my Universal Credit journal every day and one day I noticed that the sanction had been imposed. There's no communication or no way you can defend yourself. It's an awful system.

"I appealed and then noticed some weeks later that there was an update that my appeal had been upheld and the money would be repaid. "There was no apology or explanation."

The Gateshead mam said he was forced to get a short-term loan to tide him over in the meantime and will have to pay it back through his universal credit. He added: "I was already struggling to pay my bills and buy food on the full amount. Sometimes I feel like giving up."

"It's not right. I feel they are always making excuses to take the money away from me. I have lost trust with them. There are different levels of sanctions they can impose on you and it's really quite easy to lose your money altogether, again without any means to dispute their decision."

While he owns his property, Errol said he is already struggling to pay all of his bills and tries to cut the costs of his gas and electricity by not using everyday appliances like his oven. He added: "I don't think the Government has got an understanding of what it's all about and what it's like to survive.

"They haven't got a clue what people have to go through if they lose a job or they are made redundant. They're not helping people at all, they are making it worse all the time. I don't think they understand the extent of how people are living."

Errol Livingstone refuses to use his oven amid the cost of living crisis and struggles to pay his bills. © Newcastle Chronicle Errol Livingstone refuses to use his oven amid the cost of living crisis and struggles to pay his bills.

Despite a stressful job as a NHS calls handler during the Covid-19 pandemic, Errol says that claiming Universal Credit is more stressful.

Errol claimed that signing on for Universal Credit was more stressful than taking over 100 calls a day during his two-and-a-half years as a NHS call handler. He said: "When I worked for the NHS I was helping people and it was very, very difficult because people were dying. Because of all the stress I burnt out and I had to go to see my doctor.

"Despite that, I feel signing on to Universal Credit is the most stressful thing I have ever taken on and I feel this Government is to blame. I feel the whole situation now is depressing - it's diabolical and it's managed poorly.

"The people at the top are not helping. It's like they have forgotten the people who are really vulnerable. Your desperation causes more stress and anxiety and it starts to affect the way you do everyday things.

"It gives you less incentive to participate with the rest of the community. I feel useless, I don't feel they are helping me at all. I feel they are making me worse."

A DWP spokesman said sanctions are only used in "a small number" of cases: "If a claimant disagrees with a decision to impose a sanction, they can ask for this to be reconsidered. Mr Livingstone’s appeal found in his favour and we have paid all benefits due to him. We continue to support him with his job search."

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