A family-of-three were reduced to tears after a benefits blunder left them with just 74 pence to live on – for a week.
Melissa Whitchurch and her partner Chris Steer desperately rummaged around their home looking for things to sell so that they could buy food for their five-year-old daughter Cheyenne.
The mum, 35, and her 39-year-old partner were expecting a Universal Credit payment of £330 to be paid into their bank account at midnight last Thursday and budgeted accordingly.
But when Melissa went to draw out the money, she was horrified to see her balance was just 74 pence and called the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) hotline for help.
Melissa claimed the officer said the payment was not due for another six days and, when she tried to explain the mistake, told her it was ‘her problem’ and hung up.
Melissa, from Brighton, East Sussex, said: “All that was going through my mind was how am I going to feed my daughter and send her to school without her snacks?
“The children all put healthy food in a box at school in the morning, such as fruit and crackers, and then they sit down and eat it together during story time.
“It breaks my heart to think of her feeling like the odd one out, sat there watching everybody else eat their fruit when she doesn’t have any.”
Melissa had originally asked the DWP to change her payment schedule from a monthly arrangement to a fortnightly one.
When the family received their last payment of £330, they were told the other half would arrive two weeks later and used the money to pay bills and buy food to last a fortnight.
But when the second half did not arrive, Melissa was told it would be made on the last day of the month and was forced to wait six days with only 74 pence to her name.
She said: “Me and my partner can go without, but not our little girl.
“If we were told this in the first place, we would have budgeted for it.
“It’s horrible. Cheyenne is really sweet about it and she doesn’t really understand, thank goodness.
“We try to keep her away from it.
“But when she sees I’m upset, she will come over and cuddle me and say ‘it’s okay mummy.’
“It’s horrible and the people that are supposed to help just don’t care.
“They are heartless.”
The family have been surviving on food donations from strangers and neighbours who heard about their desperate situation.
Melissa said: “I could have gone to the food bank last week but since I thought I would be paid the next day, I didn’t and the next one isn’t for another week.
“So we’ve been getting by thanks to the kindness of other people.
“One lady heard about my situation and came and gave us some bread, milk, ham and cheese and I’d never even seen or spoken to her before.”
Melissa said she would love nothing more than to return to work since she was signed off due to problems with her health 11 years ago.
But the former shop assistant has limited mobility and has aids to help her around the house due to her back pain and other health issues, for which she takes more than 40 tablets per day.
Chris was also signed off from his job as a chef just five months ago for mental health reasons.
Universal Credit is a new benefits system, introduced to simplify and replace many existing benefits and tax credits and consists of a single, monthly benefit payment into a bank account.
The DWP has been contacted for comment.