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Mother left relying on food banks while working as courier wins Universal Credit tribunal

PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:19 28 October 2019

Roxy Theobald and her daughter Bella were forced to rely on donations from friends and food banks because of Universal Credit deduction on earnings while working as a courier. Picture: Sophie Smith

Roxy Theobald and her daughter Bella were forced to rely on donations from friends and food banks because of Universal Credit deduction on earnings while working as a courier. Picture: Sophie Smith

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A mother left unable to afford to pay bills or to feed her daughter despite working as a courier driver has won a Universal Credit appeal tribunal over whether she was self-employed or not.

Roxy Theobald and her daughter Bella were forced to rely on donations from friends and food banks because of Universal Credit deduction on earnings while working as a courier. Picture: Sophie SmithRoxy Theobald and her daughter Bella were forced to rely on donations from friends and food banks because of Universal Credit deduction on earnings while working as a courier. Picture: Sophie Smith

Roxy Theobald, 27, from Long Stratton, started working as a courier in April 2017 but after moving on to the controversial Universal Credit benefits system in October 2018 she found herself dramatically worse off.

Miss Theobald, who cares for her daughter Bella, said after petrol expenses her income was often just £450 per month, despite Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) expectations that she earn £822, based on working 25 hours per week on national minimum wage.

This minimum income floor calculation of her expected earnings saw £393 a month deducted from her Universal Credit payment of between £1,099 and £1,300.

Still from the new film by Ken Loach Sorry We Missed You about the employment issues facing self-employed couriers. Picture: Entertainment OneStill from the new film by Ken Loach Sorry We Missed You about the employment issues facing self-employed couriers. Picture: Entertainment One

"I was on this minimum income floor for six months as a courier driver and that actually put me and my daughter in a very difficult financial situation," she said. "It was leaving us with nothing. We had to use food banks, friends and neighbours giving us food, like party leftovers, because I could not even afford the bills let alone being able to buy food."

The employment status of couriers has proved controversial over whether they should be classified as self-employed 'independent contractors' rather than employed 'workers'.

An appeal tribunal into Miss Theobald's case in Norwich on October 23 found in her favour, with Judge Graham Cooper, who oversaw the hearing, stating he was "not satisfied that Miss Theobald was in gainful self-employment".

His judgement adds: "Therefore, the minimum income floor may not apply and her entitlement falls to be calculated by reference to her actual income."

The plight of courier drivers is the subject of director Ken Loach's new film Sorry We Missed You, which is released in cinemas this week. Miss Theobald, who now works as a carer, said she hoped the tribunal would help set a precedent.

"As a courier driver you are given work and you can only work the amount of hours you are given, but with the minimum income floor, the DWP see people as having their own businesses and able increase their hours and earnings," she said.

A DWP spokesman said: "Miss Theobald has continued to receive Universal Credit while awaiting the outcome of her appeal. We will consider the findings when received from the independent tribunal."

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