How many others could be in our situation?

Jo Hyde and Adam Lambert from Seahouses.
Jo Hyde and Adam Lambert from Seahouses.

A Northumberland couple have hit out at the benefit system, worrying that many others may find themselves in difficult situations.

Last year, Jo Hyde and Adam Lambert, both 28, had to borrow from family for rent and were living hand to mouth for months while they waited for their money.

The couple, from Seahouses, took the battle to MP Sir Alan Beith and the local ombudsman among others, as they fought for about six months until they received their payment.

Luckily, the generosity of both family and their landlords meant that they were able to keep their home.

“If it hadn’t been for the help we had, we would have lost the flat by now,” said Jo.

And this year, after Adam’s seasonal work dried up as the tourist season drops off, the couple find themselves waiting again.

“I didn’t want to sign on because of all the trouble we had last year,” she said.

“I don’t want it to get to that stage again, six months down the line.

“If it happened to us, how many other people are in the same situation?”

But it isn’t just the wait that riles Adam and Jo.

Jo works at the Co-op in Seahouses, but because of the drop in trade in the winter, her hours vary. One week she could have 30 hours, the next it could be 12.

But because she and Adam are partners living together, they have to sign on together, and Jo says she is unable to work more than 16 hours a week, as it would make them ineligible for the support.

Jo’s salary alone, with the varying hours, is not enough to live on, but if they apply for support she cannot work the full hours offered to her.

Meanwhile, Adam, who worked for Coxons in the village selling ice cream over the summer, is full of praise for his employer, saying that he will be taken on again next year and that his boss tries to help out where possible.

Both say that they want to work, but the system isn’t allowing them to work as much as they can – as a couple it’s either all or nothing.

Jo said: “I have always paid my tax, I have always paid my National Insurance, I have always worked.

“But when you go to them for help, they just throw it back in your face.

“This year, I have got a lot more to worry about, it’s appalling.

“I think it’s absolutely appalling at the moment the way the system is working.

“We are lucky because we have got really good landlords, but other people won’t be that lucky and they would get an eviction notice.”

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions did not comment specifically on Jo and Adam’s case, but explained that ‘in order to meet the basic conditions for Jobseekers Allowance as a couple, the person claiming must be working less than 16 hours per week and the partner less than 24 hours. However, earnings are also taken into account.

‘When someone works seasonally, an average is usually taken to determine how many hours someone works, and how much money they earn, over a year to see if they are entitled to benefits.

‘Universal Credit, which will be introduced from next year, will simplify the benefits system to ensure people know they are better off in work than on benefits’.