Update Monday 13 May:
I rang the Universal Credit helpline (0800 328 5644) to ask if the Flexible Support Fund could be used to help people on Universal Credit with childcare costs when they found work.
After 20 minutes (yep) on hold, the person who answered the phone said that the Flexible Support Fund couldn’t be used for childcare costs. That was interesting. You’ll see in the tweet copied below that Universal Credit CE Neil Couling said that it could.
I asked the helpline specifically if the fund could be used for childcare costs and the officer said No. I explained the upfront and first-month childcare costs of about £300 that the woman in the original post below faces. The helpline said that advance loans and budgeting loans could be used for childcare costs, but must be paid back.
So, I tweeted Couling and asked him to tell me what the right answer is. Can people use the Flexible Support Fund for childcare costs or not? If they can, why does the Universal Credit helpline say they can’t?
People in poverty can’t afford upfront childcare costs when they get work. If Couling says the Flexible Support Fund can be used for those costs, then people should be told about it and how to apply for it.
What a circus. I swear to god.
Update Saturday 11 May:
Universal Credit grandee Neil Couling tells me on twitter that the Flexible Support Fund can indeed be used to fund childcare if people who claim Universal Credit can’t meet childcare costs.
It’s an absolute travesty that jobcentre advisers don’t tell people that. I’m finding this unreal.
As I replied to Neil – he needs to fill the airwaves with news of this fund and instruct his jobcentre advisers to damn well tell people that they can apply to the FSF to pay for childcare when they start work. It’s disgusting that people aren’t told about this fund.
The woman in the original post below tells me that she’s actually lost the carer job she was due to start on Monday, because of the childcare funding problem. Her employer “got funny” about things when the woman asked if she could work 8-2.30pm for the first week while she sorted out childcare and payments.
She has another interview next week for another job.
Here’s Couling on twitter on the subject. He needs to spend less time on twitter and more time making sure Universal Credit claimants get the money they’re entitled to:
Needs to go further afield. The dwp needs to put out a press release on Monday telling everyone that money is there for childcare and that it’s a grant they don’t have to repay. Also want to see a bulletin go to jcp advisers instructing them to tell claimants the money’s there
— Kate B (@hangbitch) May 10, 2019
Original post from yesterday:
To Essex now – where a young woman whose problems with Universal Credit I’ve previously written about gets in touch to say that her new job is at risk because of problems funding childcare.
The woman has found work and starts on Monday.
She has a little girl, so needs a childminder to pick the child up from school and to look after her until her mother gets home from work.
The woman found a childminder (after school club was already booked out).
Universal Credit said they’d fund 85% of the costs.
The problem is that the woman has to pay this in advance (it’ll be about £300 a month) and have the money repaid.
This will be a real stretch – for the first month in particular.
Like so many people who are starting in work, this young woman doesn’t have £300 lying around:
“Universal credit said they can pay 85% of childcare… but I have to add the amount to my account each month. The first month, I’d have to pay in advance and be refunded for it. I can’t get an advance payment, because I had one last October.”
It looks like this woman will have to borrow from family, or friends (assuming someone has £300), or take out a loan elsewhere.
She’ll end up in (more) debt. That’s inevitable. As the woman says in the quote above, Universal Credit won’t give an advance loan for the childcare costs, because she had another loan recently. That loan was to cover debt brought about by deductions that the DWP was taking from her Universal Credit payments. Chief among these were deductions for tax credit overpayments which the woman insists she didn’t owe.
So – “I have to find £300 just to start work.”
Needless to say, the government says it pays childcare costs in arrears to prevent fraud. I just love that. This government’s obsession with appearing tough on people in poverty literally knows no bounds. Government is so damn hung up about fraud that’ll actually shove low-paid parents into debt when they do the “right” thing and find work.
Why the DWP can’t accept a letter from a registered childminder stating charges in advance and pay costs up front I do not know.
In my less charitable moments, of which I have many, I find myself thinking that government wants to keep single mothers in poverty, rather than in work that might let them get ahead.
Suggestions and input welcome.
Update Friday 9 May:
Gail Ward on facebook has alerted me to the Flexible Support Fund, which should be available to people in exactly these situations.
The problem is, as usual, that Universal Credit and jobcentres don’t tell people that these funds exist. This is criminal.
The Turn2Us site actually centres its Flexible Support Fund information around a criticism of the DWP for withholding information about the fund (a fund I’d never heard of).
“A number of organisations are concerned at how little is known about the FSF.
One Jobcentre adviser in Bolton likened the FSF to the illegal boxing clubs in the film Fight Club, in that they don’t talk about it.
This is highlighted by the fact that the budget set aside for FSF has been underspent in every year since it was introduced.”
Isn’t that just great.