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‘Pregnant, jobless and evicted: I missed out on furlough by two days and it ruined my life'

Jessica Beard
·5-min read
Musicians protest in Parliament Square over lack of support for the self-employed - NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Shutterstock
Musicians protest in Parliament Square over lack of support for the self-employed - NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

Single, heavily pregnant and recently served with an eviction notice: if anyone had told 31-year-old Emma Kiernan how her life would be turned upside down in the space of six months she would never have believed them.

The mother-to-be was made redundant in March after she missed the cut-off date for the furlough scheme by two days. She had only just been hired as a legal secretary, which meant she was not on the PAYE roll by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough deadline.

Ms Kiernan was one of the hundreds of thousands to fall between the cracks of the Government’s support schemes, sending her life into a tailspin.

She said a JobCentre Plus worker told her she could not receive Universal Credit as the business degree she was undertaking part-time in her evenings made her a student. However, Turn2us, a charity, said she was given wrong information and part-time students were eligible to claim.

Ms Kiernan unenrolled from her course to be able to access the benefits. It took three months, during which time she received no income. She had paid £9,000 in tuition fees but left with no refund and no degree. She soon fell behind on rent and bills.

Just weeks before her due date, which is at the end of October, she said she had been handed an eviction notice for March. “My head has been all over the place and money is constantly on my mind,” she said. “I could stress myself every day about it but I shouldn’t because of the baby.”

Unable to buy infant clothes or prepare for her new arrival, Ms Kiernan has been put on antidepressants for severe anxiety and depression.

“My life has been flipped upside-down. I have always had a good job and been able to keep up with bills. This is not what I had imagined for my first baby,” she said.

Emma Kiernan
Emma Kiernan

Her previous £1,500-a-month salary has been replaced by £640 in Universal Credit, which does not cover her £675 monthly rent, she said. The part of this income that is supposed to cover housing is worth just £291. All her utility bills are in arrears and her internet has been cut off, which has made it harder to look for jobs, she added.

Katie Wood, a barrister at the charity Maternity Action, said Ms Kiernan should speak to the local council as it might reduce her council tax payments given her situation. Ms Wood also recommended the Sure Start Maternity Grant, a one-off payment of £500 for those on Universal Credit to help towards the costs of having a first child. She said the Universal Credit payments appeared low and that Ms Kiernan might be being short-changed. She can check through the Help to Claim service set up by Citizens Advice.

Up to 100,000 workers are estimated to have missed out on taxpayer support through the furlough scheme because of an anomaly that rules out people who joined their employer too late to be included in the March payroll tax submission, according to a report published in April by the Institute for Employment Studies. Mr Sunak extended the cut-off date from Feb 28 to March 19. However, many of those who were paid monthly and joined in February will still not have made the cut.

Ms Kiernan has missed out on £8,400 of furlough pay since she was made redundant and has lost £9,000 in tuition fees. But it has cost her more than just money as she battles with anxiety and worries about losing her home.

She said: “I was trying to better myself by doing a degree and create more financial stability by getting the new job but everything has gone wrong.”

Aron Padley of ExcludedUK, which campaigns for those who have been barred from the support schemes, said: “The thing that makes this situation all the more abhorrent is the fact that most of the three million in the ExcludedUK community are hard-working, resilient and self-sufficient individuals. Many of them have never had to use the likes of Universal Credit or state support previously, which has led to spiralling debt, poverty, an increase in food bank use and a mental health crisis.

“I’m afraid to say some are unable to continue with their lives. These are heartbreaking times and these gaps simply must be filled.”

Ms Kiernan is due to give birth in days and said she could no longer find work. Joeli Brearley of Pregnant Then Screwed, a campaign group, said it was “unconscionable” that a pregnant woman was being evicted from her home because she had fallen through the cracks of a one-size-fits-all economic response.

She said: “Rishi Sunak promised to wrap his arms around this country to ensure that no one was left behind. Pregnant mothers and their babies are among the most vulnerable in our society.” The campaign group has said it will send Ms Kiernan some money it has raised for mothers in need.

A spokesman at the Treasury said:​ “Since the start of the pandemic we have introduced a generous and wide-ranging package of support to help as many people as possible whose income has been affected during this time, while minimising the risk of fraud.

“To help those most in need we have invested an extra £9bn in our welfare system, including by increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £20 a week, as well as introducing income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional support for renters," he added.

Once the baby arrives Ms Kiernan will be entitled to more help with rent and to an additional £235 a month of Universal Credit and £91 a month in child benefit, according to Turn2us.

Free, confidential debt advice is available via the Money Advice Service to help those who are having trouble paying their bills.

Did you narrowly miss out on furlough support? Share your story in the comments section below.