Gateshead man 'living on vegetable juice' after Universal Credit cut wins DWP appeal

Former NHS call handler Errol Livingstone said he is pleased his appeal was upheld. Credit: NCJMEDIA SYNDICATION

A former NHS worker who says he was living on vegetable juice after having his benefits cut has won an appeal to get his money back.

Errol Livingstone, from Gateshead, said his Universal Credit payments were docked because he did not attend an interview techniques course.

The 57-year-old claimed he was under the impression that he did not have to attend the course due to his experience in recruitment and was later told he should have been there.

He lost £11 per day for eight days, a total of £88 from his monthly payment of £319.84, which he says caused extreme hardship during the current cost of living crisis.

The former NHS call handler was pleased when his appeal was upheld, but disappointed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not apologise for what he considers to be their error.

He said: "At the end of the day, I didn't do anything wrong, so they should not have taken the money away from me in the first place.

"The sanctions don't give you any right to reply or respond to the accusations, they are just imposed on you.

"I go on my Universal Credit journal every day and one day I noticed that the sanction had been imposed. There's no communication or no way you can defend yourself. It's an awful system.

"I appealed and then noticed some weeks later that there was an update that my appeal had been upheld and the money would be repaid. There was no apology or explanation."

Mr Livingstone has said in the past he has lived on cartons of pure vegetable juice, fresh orange juice and fruit. He also said he has to take food from his elderly mother and search the supermarket shelves for reduced items.

"I had to get a short-term loan to tide me over, which I will have to pay back through my Universal Credit," he said, "I was already struggling to pay my bills and buy food on the full amount. Sometimes I feel like giving up.

"I'm pleased my complaint was upheld and I got my money back, but I had to wait quite some time to get the money back and I am annoyed the DWP has not apologised for their error."Mr Livingstone said that, although he owns his own property, he is already struggling to pay for all of his bills, which include his water, phone and his building insurance. He said he is trying to cut the costs of his gas and electricity by not using everyday items in his house, such as his oven and buys ready-cooked food if he can, searching the supermarket shelves for reduced items and occasionally even accepting food from his elderly mother.

"I don't think the Government has got an understanding of what it's all about and what it's like to survive. They haven't got a clue what people have to go through if they lose a job or they are made redundant. They're not helping people at all, they are making it worse all the time. I don't think they understand the extent of how people are living," he said.

A spokesman from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said: "Sanctions are only used in a small number of cases. If a claimant disagrees with a decision to impose a sanction, they can ask for this to be reconsidered.

"Mr Livingstone’s appeal found in his favour and we have paid all benefits due to him. We continue to support him with his job search."

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