A MOTHER was reduced to tears after she was left with just 74p to feed her young daughter for six days when a Universal Credit payment she was expecting failed to go into her bank account.

Mel Whitchurch, 35, and her partner Chris Steer, 39, who live in Preston Road in Brighton, were yesterday desperately rummaging through their home to find things to sell to pay for food for their five-year-old daughter Cheyenne.

“I feel horrible and incapable that I can’t feed my daughter,” said Mel. “It makes me feel degraded. I have only got 74p until the next payment.”

Mel, who has back problems and can’t walk, and Chris, who has been signed off work with mental health problems, jointly claim Universal Credit, the new benefit for working age people that replaces six benefits and merges them into one payment.

The couple recently arranged to split their monthly payments into two per month – and although Mel says the Department of Work and Pensions told them the payments would be made “fortnightly”, the DWP says the arrangement is for “bi-monthly” payments.

As the family’s last payment came on October 14, Mel was expecting the next one to arrive at midnight on Thursday. However, when she phoned the Department for Work and Pensions hotline on Friday morning, she was told the payment was due nearly a week later on October 31, next Wednesday.

“They told me it was my problem and they put the phone down on me,” said Mel, who has been on benefits for 11 years and has no savings. “They just don’t care. I hate them.”

Also worried about paying bills, Mel became distraught when she told how Cheyenne would be the only child unable to take a snack with her when she returns to school on Monday after half-term.

When The Argus spoke to Mel yesterday, a friend had just brought the family two pizzas to keep them going. But after that they only had a few tins of food to last until next Wednesday.

“I missed the food bank because it’s only open on Thursdays,” said Mel. “It was too late to go because I didn’t find out until midnight on Thursday that we wouldn’t have any money.”

“Cheyenne has school dinners but all the children also take in a piece of fruit for story time,” said Mel, who began crying as she added: “She‘ll be the only one without a snack.”

This month, the family has received an additional £150 from the DWP to buy a new washing machine, which they have now bought.

The Universal Credit system has been criticised for causing delays to people’s payments and since it was announced in 2010, it has taken longer than expected to be rolled out. The National Audit Office said it suffered from “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”.

Earlier this month, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey told the BBC that some people would be poorer under Universal Credit but said the most vulnerable would be protected.

In a statement, the DWP said: “The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money. Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.

“Universal Credit replaces an out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges that disincentivised work and often trapped people in unemployment.

“Under UC, evidence shows people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer.”