I've been left in debt at worst possible time by Universal Credit blunder after being overpaid – and it wasn't my fault | The Sun

A YOUNG Stoke-on-Trent mum who was the unwitting victim of a Universal Credit payment blunder has ended up saddled with unexpected debt at the worst possible time.

Charlie Cotton has been hit with a sanction even though the error was not her fault.

The 23-year-old went on maternity leave to look after her baby daughter Darcie back at the end of last year and started receiving Universal Credit payments.

Unbeknown to Charlie, an admin error meant that she'd been paid £738 more than she should have been.

She was then hit with a £50 penalty, even though the overpayment was not her fault.

Having worked since she was 16, the former Heywood High School pupil has never claimed any benefits and had no clue she had been given too much money.

While the £50 penalty has been waived because she wasn't to blame for the error, she finds herself having to repay the debt at the worst possible time, when the cost of living is soaring.

Charlie, 23, said: "My earnings weren't declared correctly (by my employer), so Universal Credit did not receive the information it needed.

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As a result, I've had to make two repayments so far, which have been taken off my entitlement.

It's money I can't afford to have taken off as a sole parent."

Charlie added that she accepted that the money was more than she had been entitled to, but added: "You'd expect it to be right."

Describing the impact the cost of living squeeze was having on her and six-month-old Darcie, she said that after paying her rent, she was left with just £325 a month in Universal Credit income to live on.

The Stoke on Trent mum said she paid for her electricity and gas on a pre-payment meter and had to limit herself to putting around £50 a month on it.

Charlie added: "If it's dark and I need to look at something, I have to walk around with the torch on my phone rather than put a lamp on.

"I probably do washing once a fortnight now. I eat at night but don't eat anything during the day. It's a mixture of not being able to afford it, and knowing I would rather put food in my daughter's mouth.

"I would rather know I had bought food for her than for me."

She said it was particularly difficult providing everything on such a basic income while she was unable to work, while "Boris Johnson probably doesn't even know the cost of a loaf of bread".

StokeonTrentLive recently reported that the number of people in North Staffordshire who were receiving Universal Credit sanctions had gone up since before the pandemic, with 399 being penalised this year compared to just 94 in February 2020.

Nationally, thousands of people were probed last year for possible fraud if they gave the wrong details to DWP.

On having to struggle on Universal Credit, Charlie added: "I think a lot of people are kind of ashamed to talk about it, but if people don't talk about it then no-one knows how difficult it is."

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A spokesman for the Department For Work and Pensions (DWP), said: "Unfortunately, Ms Cotton incurred a benefit overpayment after her employer was late in reporting her maternity pay.

"We will get in touch with Ms Cotton to provide support and information on discussing manageable repayments with our recovery team.”

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