Coronavirus: Tell us your stories about claims, say MEPs

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MPs asked people to share their experiences in trying to claim benefits during the coronavirus epidemic.

The Labor and Pensions Committee wishes to hear from new candidates as well as those who are already using the system.

More than a million people applied for universal credit benefits between March 16 and April 3.

Committee chair Stephen Timms said the number of new requests was “unprecedented.”

The Labor MP added that the committee would like to hear from people to “better understand the problems faced by people who depend on the benefit system”.

The increase in the number of asylum seekers follows government measures to limit the spread of the virus, including the closure of non-essential pubs, restaurants and shops.

“Exceptional demand”

The latest figures on universal credit seekers were revealed in a letter to deputies from the senior official in the Department of Labor and Pensions (DWP).

In correspondence, Peter Schofield said that the department would normally receive about 55,000 requests in a “normal week”.

He added that the DWP was facing “exceptional demand” and received 5.8 million calls in the last nine days of March.

That includes 1.8 million calls between March 23 and March 27, he said, alongside 2.2 million on March 30 and 1.8 million on March 31.

He said the department was redeploying staff to handle the volume of calls, but warned that it would take “some time” to reduce the pressure on the system.

  • Unemployed find it difficult to apply for benefits
  • New universal credit applications signal economic need

The universal credit is a consolidated monthly payment for people of working age, which has replaced a host of earlier benefits, including income-tested jobseeker’s allowance, housing allowance, child tax and the labor tax credit.

In October 2019, there were 2.6 million universal credit applicants – just over a third of them were employed.

Timms said: “The front-line DWP staff are making a Herculean effort to cope with the unprecedented number of new requests for universal credit, and we thank them for all they do at such a difficult time.

“I know they will strive to ensure that those in need of cash receive their payments urgently as quickly as possible.

“We want to hear about any specific problem with applying for benefits and, more generally, whether people are getting enough money to support themselves and their families during these extremely difficult days.”

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