New research from Citizens Advice reveals one fifth (20%) of UK adults say they have applied or expect to apply for benefits as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This rises to 68% of people on zero-hours contracts.
In Ipswich, Citizens Advice have supported clients with over 500 queries relating to benefits and employment issues. These issues range from how do I make a claim for benefit, how do the government schemes relate to me, is my employer acting reasonably?
The findings come as government data today shows over 1.5 million households made a Universal Credit claim between 1st March and 12th April. First payments for those who applied for the benefit immediately following the lockdown are due tomorrow.
Figures from Citizens Advice show around six million people in the UK (18% of the total workforce) have already seen their hours cut, been laid off or made redundant.
The charity, which has seen nearly 2.5 million views of its online advice on employment and benefits issues since the lockdown began, says gaps in the jobs protections schemes could be increasing the number forced to apply for the benefit. This includes people who are recently self-employed or at higher risk of coronavirus, such as those who are pregnant or have diabetes.
The swift redeployment of staff by the Department for Work and Pensions has helped respond to an unprecedented surge in demand on the benefits system and ensured people can access financial support.
However, insights from frontline advisers at Citizens Advice show the claims process remains problematic for some groups, such as those who don’t have ID or a bank account or those without an internet connection. Accessibility issues have been exacerbated by the necessary temporary closure of libraries and job centres.
Meanwhile 15% of people anticipate having to borrow money from friends or family to cope with the five-week wait before payment if they do have to apply for Universal Credit.
Citizens Advice is recommending the government make immediate changes to Universal Credit so that those who have lost income as a result of coronavirus can access adequate support quickly without getting into debt.
Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:
“Behind today’s figures are families whose world has been turned upside down by coronavirus.
“The Government has worked hard to shore up protections for workers and process soaring claims for Universal Credit. But we know that some people are still slipping through the safety net, often with desperate consequences.
“Plugging the remaining gaps in the employment support schemes could protect more jobs. And for those needing support from the benefits system, turning advance payments into a grant would really ease the burden.”
Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:
“Since the lockdown, Citizens Advice Ipswich alone has dealt with over 500 cases where clients are seeking advice on benefits and how to claim them as well as worries about their work, and this is without our usual face to face service which helps the most vulnerable people in our community, many of whom currently cannot access our service due to lack of digital connectivity.
“Our advisers are receiving calls every day from people whose livelihood has simply disappeared due to this pandemic. Some lost their jobs or were in unstable work when the crisis hit, and others have no income until the self-employed support scheme kicks in.”
“Staff are working flat out to help them with their concerns. Alongside issues with making an online application for Universal Credit, we’re seeing a lot of people struggling simply because they’ve never had to access the benefits system. There’s a huge demand for advice. We are bracing ourselves as we know that beyond lockdown we will be really stretched to help households get back on an even keel: financially, sorting housing issues, accessing benefits and getting back to work. It is not going to be simple or quick. This pandemic will have lasting consequences for the most vulnerable and those households who never thought they were in that category.”
“We urge people not to worry alone – we are here to help and can be contacted by phone on 0300 330 1151 or by email via this website.”