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Standing up for change

June 03 2021

Sam And Nicki From Northwards With Gaynor From Tesco

It’s not every day you get the chance to change national government policy for the better. But that’s exactly what our Sam did when she spoke out on behalf of Northwards tenants.

Sam Butler (pictured above on the left, picking up donations from Tesco with her fellow New Tenancy Support Co-ordinator Nicki Scholes) works with former rough sleepers. She helps them to start their tenancy on the right foot, supporting them with everything from getting furniture to paying bills. 

One day, a tenant she was working with told her that their Universal Credit had suddenly reduced. It left them with barely enough to live on. So Sam investigated and found that other tenants she supports had been affected too.

(Watch our interview with Sam above)

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were automatically deducting the maximum amount (30%) from Universal Credit for repayment of historic court fines. Rough sleepers were more likely to be affected due to the criminalisation of things like begging or travelling on public transport without a ticket.

Sam thought this was deeply unfair for these tenants, making it so difficult for them when they’d only just gotten off the streets and found a home.

Legal challenge

So for help, she contacted Shelter, one of the organisations delivering the GM Homes Partnership; a project we were part of to prevent and relieve homelessness. This led to Shelter launching a legal challenge on behalf of four people – including Northwards tenants. 

As a result, in March 2021, the High Court ruled that the DWP’s Universal Credit deductions policy was unlawful.  This means that claimants can ask the DWP to lower the amount deducted for court fine payments if they are struggling to get by.

Sam was thrilled with the outcome. She said: “I was over the moon. These tenants can now put gas and electricity on their meters, they can buy food, they can pay other bills, and when it was being deducted, they couldn’t.

“They were living on £50 a week, which is really, really hard for anybody to pay all their bills, to buy food and to have some kind of life.”