The Trussell Trust says one in two households using food banks is having money deducted from their benefits payments by the government.
The charity published a report, Lift the Burden, revealing that 73% of households on Universal Credit at food banks over the summer were repaying an advance payment to the government.
Advance payments are largely taken out by people to cover the five-week wait for a first payment.
This is because everyone who applies for Universal Credit must wait at least five weeks for their money to start coming through, the government offers people a one-off payment to cover this wait, but that payment must be paid back.
The Trussell Trust said paying back an advance payment, or repaying an overpayment after a system error, makes it harder for people to afford the essentials and can affect people’s mental health.
More than half of households (53%) at food banks where someone was living with mental health problems reported they owed money to the government through a loan. This compares to 30% of households which did not report anyone with mental health problems.
The charity is urging the government to stop taking money from people’s pockets through the winter months until a more responsible and just system is put in place.
This should help bring government debt collection closer to that practised in the private sector which has improved its practice significantly, assessing people’s ability to pay before recovering debts.
It is also urging everyone to help end the need for food banks by joining its Hunger Free Future campaign.
Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust said: ‘Our welfare system should increase people’s security, not suffering.
‘But right now, the government is taking money from the benefit payments of many people using food banks. Taking money off payments to repay these debts makes it much harder for people to afford the essentials and can impact on people’s mental health, this isn’t okay.
‘With the pandemic continuing to hit people’s incomes, the government must pause taking money from benefit payments over the winter months until a more responsible and just system that offers security and support is in place.
‘This would help people on the lowest incomes to keep every penny of their benefits to help afford the absolute essentials, instead of needing to turn to a food bank for help.
‘We need change this Christmas to create a system that works for everyone. That’s why we’re also calling on everyone to help end the need for food banks by joining our campaign to create a Hunger-Free Future.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘We have announced a £400m package of support for this winter and beyond, including £170m to help families stay warm and well-fed, millions in support for food aid charities and £220m to help children through the Holiday Activities and Food programme.’
Photo Credit -The Trussell Trust