< Stories of Resilience

The lockdown language lifeline

Miroslav finds a lifeline after losing his partner, and his benefits.

It’s February 2021, and Miroslav is sick with grief and worry.

After losing his wife and giving up work to care for his four children and mother-in-law, his Universal Credit (UC) suddenly stops around Christmas-time, leaving their family with nothing to live on except Child Benefit.

“Miroslav didn’t know how to get out of the situation, and was obviously very worried about his children,” says Gareth, a CAB Immigration Caseworker. 

Gareth gets on the case.

With new funding from the Respond and Adapt Programme, he and Miroslav can communicate through Language Line, a telephone interpretation service. 

Still, this clearly isn’t going to be an easy fix. The UC helpline refers Miroslav’s case to a separate team, saying they will call him sometime in the next five days.

This means Gareth won’t be able to support Miroslav during the phone call. “All I could do was prep Miroslav to ask for an interpreter, or record the conversation so we could listen to it together later.” 

Two weeks later, Miroslav is still waiting for the call.

When Gareth phones the UC helpline again, they repeat that the relevant team will call during the next five days. By now it is the end of February and Miroslav, who hasn’t received Universal Credit for two months, is in a pretty bad way.

To tide things over, Gareth organises a British Red Cross hardship grant, allowing Miroslav to buy food and essentials for his children, and get a free fuel allowance for gas and electricity. But still, nothing is resolved.

Five days on, the call finally comes. Unfortunately, Miroslav doesn’t understand what the person is saying.

He asks for an interpreter, but there isn’t one. There is simply a message saying ‘upload your tenancy agreement’, which Miroslav has already done. 

Once again, they call the helpline and submit the tenancy agreement. And again, it is rejected, with no explanation or instructions for how to proceed. When Gareth's call the helpline yet again, they say Miroslav’s case is with the other team and that they can’t do anything.

Their breakthrough finally comes towards the end of March, when Gareth convinces a case worker to call him at a particular time.

This means he can get Miroslav on the line too - with an interpreter. 

“It was just persistence really,” says Gareth, “explaining that this family has been without benefits for quite some time, with four young children who are suffering and no good reason given for why.”


Within a week, Miroslav’s Universal Credit is reinstated, plus back payments for the months he has missed.

“I was very relieved that the ordeal was over and I could pay off my debts,” says Miroslav.

“It made a world of difference,” Gareth adds. “He hadn’t been sleeping well due to his worries. It meant he could get back on his feet and buy his children something they wanted after living on food parcels and hand to mouth.”

Funding for telephone interpretation during lockdown proved a lifeline for Miroslav.

He believes ‘100%’ that he would never have had his Universal Credit reinstated without it. It also allowed CAB to support others who don’t speak English. 

Miroslav thinks interpretation should be offered to everyone in future, regardless of their situation, as government services are currently inconsistent. Also, “while many people treated me with respect, others were very accusatory,” he says. “I was never told clearly what was needed. This has to change”.

Gareth agrees: “You’re asking for help from a system where you are eligible, but you can’t access it because you don’t speak the language." 

“For a community as diverse as the UK, we need to make sure everybody can be included. Change in policy or training would be the best thing to come out of this.”

“Such difficult issues don’t happen regularly – but when they do it makes you feel happy that you’re helping, and very lucky that I haven’t been in that situation myself. I don’t know how well I would have coped” says Gareth.