Western Morning News



THERE’S been a huge spike in claims for Universal Credit due to the coronaviru­s pandemic.

New figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that Universal Credit claims have shot up since the 16th March, when Boris Johnson first announced restrictio­ns a week ahead of lockdown.

Between then and the 12th April, nearly 1.8 million people across Great Britain put in a claim although not all of them will go on to receive a payment.

As the DWP would usually receive around 100,000 claims in a two week period, the figures show how this crisis is an economic emergency for a huge number of people.

Universal Credit is the new welfare system that is replacing six “legacy” benefits, including unemployme­nt benefit, tax credits and housing benefit.

Its introducti­on has been controvers­ial, with critics arguing that it has put poorer claimants, in particular, at heightened risk of hunger, debt and rent arrears, illhealth and homelessne­ss.

As well as leaving claimants with nothing to live on during the transition period - which takes longer than a month - many are then finding they are worse off than they were while on legacy benefits.

Flaws in the system and technical problems have also left people without any money while issues are ironed out.

Now, charities are warning that these problems are only being heightened by the unpreceden­ted demand being put on the system.

Sara Willcocks, Head of Communicat­ions at Turn2us, said: "The underlying issues with Universal Credit are being exacerbate­d by the huge influx in claims due to the coronaviru­s pandemic.

“People are coming to us every day saying they are struggling with everything from the five week wait to the electronic ID verificati­on system.

"There are a number of things we are urging the government to do, but they must start with removing the five week wait by making the advance payment a non-repayable grant.

“This will enable people to feed their families and pay their bills without having to get into debt.”

Advance cash payments are available for those in urgent need but these are currently taken out of future payments, which can leave claimants scrambling to make ends meet.

As might be expected with more people applying for Universal Credit, the number of advances being handed out has also soared since lockdown.

There were 512,610 advances paid between the 16th March and 12th April - the equivalent of 18,308 a day.

That’s up from an average of 6,239 a day between the 1st and the 15th March.

Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey said: “Universal Credit is providing vital support for all those who need it during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The system has stood firm in the face of the unpreceden­ted demand and our dedicated staff have gone above and beyond to help process more than 1.5 million new Universal Credit claims in just over a month.

“These are challengin­g times, but Universal Credit is providing a vital safety net to those affected by the pandemic and we’ve taken action by injecting over £6.5 billion to support people on the welfare system, along with the other job and business support programmes announced by the Chancellor.”

In response to Covid-19 the government has introduced a number of additional temporary support measures to help people during the pandemic.

These include increasing the standard allowance and relaxing rules for self-employed claimants.

Thousands of staff are also being recruited and redeployed from elsewhere in the department to help deal with demand.

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