More than 700,000 people in Britain are having a fifth of their Universal Credit taken away – before it's even paid.
The government has admitted 739,000 people on the six-in-one benefit lost at least 20% of their standard allowance payment to "deductions" in November.
A further 569,000 people lost up to a fifth of their monthly allowance – meaning 1.3million suffered deductions in total, 58% of all those on UC.
Deductions are taken from people who need to repay fines, loans, overpayments, child maintenance or fraud. But by far the biggest reason is when people are forced to pay back "advances" against their own benefits.
And campaigners say the cruel five-week wait for Universal Credit is to blame – because it forces people to take out an advance if they want cash.
SNP MP Chris Stephens, who obtained the figures, said: "This shows once again the folly of the five week wait.
"It's quite clear that the first payment should not be an advance or a loan. We often argue the advance is a loan and these figures demonstrate that
"The deductions system plunges claimants into more poverty."
The DWP has a cap of 30% on how much it can deduct from people's Universal Credit – and that will be reduced to 25% from October 2021.
But in exceptional circumstances some people can have up more than 30% of their standard allowance taken away, if it would prevent them being evicted or having their fuel supply cut off.
That happened a whopping 58,000 times in November – including 7,000 people who lost more than 40%.
This week's Budget announced people will have 24 months, double the current 12, to repay their advances from October 2021.
But Emma Revie, chief executive of foodbank charity the Trussell Trust, said it was not enough – and the government must end the five-week wait.
She told the Mirror: "We know that people continue to be forced to food banks as a result of the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.
"This is in part due to loans being taken out to cover the gap which then must be repaid, forcing people to deal with hardship now or hardship later.
"The budget announced changes to the way people pay back Universal Credit loans, due to come into play from October 2021, which are welcome.
"However, as more people look likely to move onto Universal Credit as a result of coronavirus the government must act quickly to ensure people are protected.
"Universal Credit first payments must be made available immediately on a non-repayable basis for anyone needing to claim – if even on a temporary basis while the nation deals with the Coronavirus outbreak."
A DWP spokesman said: “This week we committed to reducing the maximum deduction to 25% of a person’s standard allowance, down from 30%, and extended the repayment time to 24 months.
“New Universal Credit claimants taking up an advance will have their advance repayments reduced by around £30 per month on average.”
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