MILLIONS of people moving on to Universal Credit from older benefits face a wait of up to five weeks for their first payment.
They could be left unable to cover essentials like bills and food because of the gap, or end up in debt to make ends meet.
People on legacy benefits will start being moved on to Universal Credit from today, starting with 500 claimants.
The government wants to get everyone switched over by the end of 2024.
Manual migration is when you're invited to move from one of six benefits under the old system on to Universal Credit.
That includes tax credits, jobseekers allowance (JSA) and employment support allowance (ESA).
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But the estimated 2.6million on legacy benefits face a wait of up to five weeks for Universal Credit payments when they move that could push them into debt.
When making a claim for Universal Credit existing benefits are stopped pushing many households into hardship and leaving them without any income to pay bills.
Claimants are encouraged to take out an "advance" from the DWP, which is a loan that has to be repaid and reduces future payments.
The Sun's Make Universal Credit Work campaign has called for the wait time to be reduced to two weeks to help.
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One single-mum struggled through tears to explain how Universal Credit’s five-week wait for cash has left her unable to pay her bills or rent.
Paul Farmer chief executive of mental health charity Mind said: "We’ve long been calling on the UK Government to reduce the five week wait for Universal Credit.
"Waiting five weeks without any income makes life difficult or even impossible for many of those who are desperately in need of support.
"People should not be pushed into debt because they don’t have enough money to get by for over a month."
Food bank charity the Trussell Trust has also warned that the wait is pushing people into poverty.
Nearly half of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are in debt to the DWP, and that includes those owing the advance because of the five-week wait for the first payment.
A report by the National Audit Office found that the five-week wait "makes debt worse" and exacerbates financial problems.
Vulnerable at risk
Meanwhile the most vulnerable on benefits risk losing income, charities have warned.
Anyone invited to claim Universal Credit will have three months to start a claim. If they don't they could have their benefits cut off.
Top bosses at charities including Mind, The Trussell Trust, Turn2Us and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said that around 700,000 with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia could struggle to engage with the process.
More than 20 organisations have called on the government to halt managed migration to fix flaws in the system which those at risk could fall through.
Farmer said: "The DWP’s managed migration plans could leave people with mental health problems with no income.
"Those too unwell to engage with the DWP could be left unable to pay their rent, buy food, or pay their rising energy bills.
"During a cost-of-living crisis, this could put the entire incomes of over 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia at risk. This is completely unacceptable."
You can already be moved over if you have a change of circumstances, like moving home or having a baby, and that's still the case.
You can also chose to move over – but you might not be better off.
You should consider carefully what moving over means for your money, as you can't move back once you're on Universal Credit.
Using an online benefits calculator can help you compare and are free and easy to use from charities such as Turn2Us and EntitledTo, and it's also worth asking them for advice.
Initially a couple of hundred people will start the switch under "managed migration" with the goal of getting everyone on the new payments by the end of 2024.
Around 1.4million will be better off on Universal Credit, the government calculates.
A further 300,000 would see no change in payments, while around 900,000 will be worse off under Universal Credit.
They will get top up payments if they move under managed migration, so they don't lose out on cash immediately.
But they could miss out on any future increase to benefits and see payments frozen.
Those who move voluntarily and are worse off won't get these top up payments and could lose cash.
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit
If you're experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don't cover costs, here are your options.
Apply for an advance
Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment.
But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit pay out.
Alternative Payment Arrangements
If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord.
You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
You may be able to get help from the government to help with emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children.
These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job.
You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments.
You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
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Cut your Council Tax
You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your payments aren't enough to cover your rent.
If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.
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