A single mother from Chesham has hit out after her benefits were cut by almost £100 a month – leaving her fearing she will “not be able to survive”.

Joanna Engel, 49, has had her Universal Credit payment slashed by £92.59 per month after she took out a student loan to do a self-funded PhD during the pandemic.

She insisted none of her student loan, which includes maintenance, goes towards her day-to-day costs, and is only used for her fees and the equipment she needs to do her PhD.

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent her a message to say her £1,100-a-month payment would be reduced, with DWP overpayments also backdated to around four months, because her student loan is classed as an income.

Ms Engel, a nutritional therapist, said: “I decided to do a PhD to improve my ability to get a job and to improve my prospects.

“I’m halfway through but because I’m not able to work due to my studies, I’ve had to claim Universal Credit.

“I hate doing it, I’m planning to come off it as soon as I can finish my PhD and get a job, but I have an eight-year-old daughter and I have just enough to get by.

“There is something seriously going wrong here. I’m going to have to give up my PhD when I’m already halfway through and I don’t want to do that because I’ve spent so much time and money on it. It’s crazy for me to give up at this late stage.”

She added: “I won’t survive without it [the 92.59 per month]. It goes towards food for me and my daughter, the rest of the money goes on bills like rent, utilities, etc.

“They are telling me to study and work full-time, it’s not possible. It’s already a pittance, what they’re giving me.

“Most of my loan goes towards my fees, any tiny bit that is left over is used to pay for any equipment I need.

“If this continues, we will have to go to a food bank, and they are stretched as it is.

“I hate claiming Universal Credit but I do it for my family. It just doesn’t make sense. That’s a lot of money for me to lose.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Postgraduate loans are offered as a contribution towards the student’s maintenance, as well as tuition fees, and on that basis are classed as income when deciding a person’s entitlement to Universal Credit.

“We have been in touch with Ms Engel to explain.”