Blackpool mum incorrectly chased for £4,000 debt after having Universal Credit slashed. Debbie Roberts, 40, has been unable to make ends meet after her benefits were cut by hundreds of pounds six months into her studies to be a paramedic.
A Blackpool mum has said she feels ‘punished’ for training as a paramedic after having her universal credit slashed by £700 a month. Debbie Roberts, from Bispham, said she has been left in £4,000 of debt and is struggling to look after her daughter after the Department for Work and Pensions miscalculated her benefits.
The 40-year-old mum-of-three started a course at Edge Hill University in February last year, leaving her long-term job as a barber. Just before she embarked upon her degree, which is taught out of a campus in Manchester, Debbie approached the DWP for a claim – taking with her proof of a student loan.
Initially everything ran smoothly and Debbie was receiving around £800 a month which covered her bills, rent, food and essentials for her and her 16-year-old daughter on top of her student loan which helped to cover her travel expenses from Blackpool to Manchester each day and study materials.
But within six months the universal credits payment had been dramatically cut to £100 a month and then further to £70 a month. When Debbie asked what had happened to her income she was told she had been overpaid and owed the government £4,000.
“It wasn’t my fault,” said Debbie. “Nothing had changed since I made the claim. I tried arguing but they said that I have to pay it back. “They are taking my student loan into account as income which I have to pay back after I start earning.
“My rent is £100 a week and my travel expenses are £100 a week. That’s my student loan gone straight away. “How am I supposed to live on £70 a month? I have a teenage daughter who is in full-time education. I can’t pay bills or get food or support her.”
Debbie, who often works 12-hour shifts on placement with the ambulance service, says that she would be better off if she quit her course and was unemployed. “This country is crying out for paramedics,” she said. “I am trying to better myself and I feel like I am being punished.
“I can’t go and get a part-time job because I’m in university from Monday to Friday. I leave the house at quarter to seven in the morning and don’t get back until after six. “I can’t even get a weekend job because I need to study for my course and when I am on shift I follow their shift patterns which include weekends and nights.
“My daughter is at college and she’s gone to get a part-time seasonal job just to provide for herself because I can’t do it. “It’s not like I’m just sitting on my butt. I wanted to train to be a paramedic 15 years ago but my children were too young and I couldn’t get childcare to cover the hours.”
Around a decade ago, Debbie broke her back and has struggled with chronic pain ever since. She has also been diagnosed with ME and says that the stress of knowing she has to pay back thousands of pounds coupled with her course is taking its toll on her.
“I’m pushing myself so hard to try and live a normal life and do good things,” she said. “I’m still at uni trying, not playing the system which I could be doing. “I just take painkillers and carry on.”
After being contacted by LancsLive, the DWP admitted that it had miscalculated Debbie’s debt and that she only owed around £400 not £4,000. It has said that arrangements will be made to see Debbie and recalculate how much she is owed to make sure she is receiving the correct payments.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We have called Ms Roberts to apologise for incorrectly calculating her Universal Credit and to discuss future payments.”
It is not currently known how long this issue will take to resolve or what the difference in payments will be once recalculated.
A meeting is being arranged for Debbie to discuss this matter further.