A MOTHER left with 74p to feed her daughter for six days has been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers – and the crisis is helping to heal a long-standing rift with her mother.

The Argus published a story last Saturday describing how Mel Whitchurch, 35, who lives in Preston Road, Brighton, with her partner Chris Steer, 39, and their five-year-old daughter Cheyenne, was left in tears when a Universal Credit payment she was expecting failed to go into her bank account.

As soon as The Argus story appeared, help started arriving. Strangers sent food including pasta, tinned goods and cereal to the family.

After the story was picked up by national newspapers, Mel’s mother, who lives in Wales, got in touch after a family rift lasting several years – and also sent shopping.

“I got a message from my mum on Facebook after the story appeared and she has done a massive shop for me,” said Mel. “I broke down when she first contacted me and I really hope we can heal things.”

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, which replaces six benefits and merges them into one payment.

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

While Mel had been expecting a payment on October 14, the DWP told her it was due on October 31, leaving the family with 74p to live on for six days.

Their plight has prompted people from around the country to offer to help.

Mel said: “It has been a whirlwind and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response.

“A nice lady did a whole shop for us, including fruit so I could send Cheyenne in to school on the Monday with a snack for storytime, and I had a message from some people in Newcastle saying that if I need anything in the future to get in touch with them.

“I would like to thank everyone so much.

“I don’t know what I would have done without it. I never expected it and didn’t know there were such good people out there.

“I would like to say to them: don’t change because there aren’t enough people out there like that.”

Last week, the DWP responded with a statement saying: “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.”

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.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the Budget that an extra £1billion would be put into Universal Credit over five years to ease those in the process of moving to the new payments, and a £1,000 increase in the amount people can earn before losing benefits, at a cost of up to £1.7 billion a year.