A MUM-TO-BE has criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after her Universal Credit (UC) payments were severely reduced and she was forced to live on a penny last month.

Twenty-year-old Keeley Sheppard, from Lechlade, who is 29 weeks pregnant and is about to move into a new home, was devastated to find that her benefits had dropped so low with no explanation, having expected to receive £500.

UC is a monthly payment to help with living costs for those who have low income or are out of work.

It is currently being introduced across the UK and replaces Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit and income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

Keeley and her partner Dan Pye, 25, are expecting their first child at Christmas and moved to the Cotswolds from Somerset in May, when they switched to a joint Universal Credit claim.

“We were both on single universal credit claims before,” said Keeley, who, along with Dan, has moved in with her dad and step mum in Gassons Way but is due to move into affordable accommodation in Fairford.

“Everything was fine, we went to appointments, did all that stuff,” she said.

“We moved up here to be closer to my dad and, having lived separately before, we went onto a joint claim because we were moving in together, and trying to get our own first place.

“It wasn't until last month when we logged on to our UC account and found out we were getting paid a penny,” she said.

If a claimant hasn’t done one of the activities in their claimant commitment they could be sanctioned, meaning their UC payments will be temporarily reduced.

However, Keeley said she has been given no explanation for the sanction, and has been forced to take out a £300 Recoverable Hardship Loan from the job centre.

This month, their UC payment has increased to £40 but is still well below what was expected.

“In the last month I have been told, because I'm 29 weeks pregnant now, that I can only be sanctioned up to 20 per cent, if I am sanctioned," she said.

“But I've been sanctioned pretty much fully.”

Keeley’s step mum Billiejo has got Fibromyalgia so is no longer working, while her 16-year-old sister also lives at the same flat – “so it’s all five of us on my dad’s wage”.

“Obviously, our UC helps them out a little bit and my dad can't afford to keep all of us, he's trying his hardest, we're making it work to a certain point but it is hard.”

Keeley, who has been prescribed anti-depressants due to the stress of the situation, said the DWP “won't give us a straight answer. They just keep saying the same thing: ‘you're just going to have to ask for another loan this month’.”

Billiejo said: “It's absolutely disgusting that [they] are setting them up, a young couple, due a baby at Christmas and just going into their first home, into debt and to fail already when [they] are not giving them any answers and it's an absolute disgrace.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Only a small minority of UC claimants are sanctioned.

"People are given every opportunity to explain why they have failed to meet their agreed commitments before a decision is made.

“Staff were in contact with Ms Sheppard to make sure she was aware of the deduction but they were not aware that she was pregnant.

"Ms Sheppard was advised she could access a hardship payment – which she did – receiving it on the same day she applied.”