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Waiting for benefits in lockdown


Press release Friday 24th April 2020

 Waiting for benefits in lockdown

Citizens Advice LeicesterShire helps all sorts of different people claim the benefits they are entitled to through our Help to Claim service (0800 1448444). Since the Covid-19 lockdown began we have been helping increasing numbers of people who have never claimed benefits before.

There are stark inequalities between those whose companies have taken up the government offer of furlough schemes, and those who have been laid off and must live solely on welfare benefits. This is particularly true for those families who have more than two dependent children and may never have imagined that they would have to rely on state aid like this. 

Universal Credit (UC) is paid in arrears and therefore leaves claimants with the now infamous five week wait for benefit payments. With reported delays in Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) responses to the initial claims of around seven days, the actual waiting time is effectively six weeks. 

An additional problem for this new group of claimants is housing. Many live in mortgaged properties and are unable to receive any assistance with mortgage interest payments until they have received nine consecutive months of UC payments. Such families may fall very swiftly into debt, particularly if they have needed to take advance payments that will be deducted from future payments.

As well as helping people navigate the benefits system, we can help them take better control of their finances if they are at risk of getting into debt. County residents can ring our Money Advice team on 0116 4647239 or email moneyadvice@citizensadviceleicestershire.org, and City residents should contact the general advice number 0300 3301025.

 Our trained advisers can be contacted for other kinds of help as follows: 

  • Anyone seeking to make a new claim for Universal Credit should call the Universal Credit Help to Claim line on 0800 1448444.
  • Fill in a webform http://citizensadviceleicestershire.org/get-advice/email-advice/ and we will get back to you within two working days.  
  • General advice can be given over the phone from 9am until 4.30pm Monday through Friday to City residents on 0300 3301025 and to County residents on 0300 3302111.
  • Those looking for advice on consumer issues (e.g. issues related to products or services you’ve purchased) can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.
  • For welfare benefits advice, specifically for people affected by cancer, ring our Macmillan team on 0300 4568400.

Please note that all of our advisers are trained and monitored for quality, making us a really reliable source of help and information. 

Saira Kawsar, our Money Advice Specialist says:

‘Everyone’s focus is quite rightly on the most vulnerable in our society, and how we can protect their health. However, there is a much wider group of people who will be affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 for a really long time. 

‘Our Help-to-claim Advisers can make sure you get the benefits you are entitled to as quickly as possible and my Money Advice team can help you organise your finances so that debts don’t become too unmanageable.’

Richard Evans, Citizens Advice Leicestershire’s Chief Executive says:

‘Anyone who is experiencing employment, financial, housing or benefits issues should come to us for specialist advice.

‘If the five week wait for benefits is having a negative impact on your family then get in touch, and our trained advisers will be able to help you. We are here for you through lockdown and beyond.’

 

 -ends-

For more information please contact:

Su Strange, Communications Officer, Citizens Advice LeicesterShire

su.strange@citizensadviceleicestershire.org

 

Summaries of evidence supplied by Citizens Advice LeicesterShire to DWP

DWP Covid-19 response

  • Long waits reported on the UC helpline with calls sometimes being terminated before claimants are connected.
  • Reported seven day wait for DWP to respond to clients following an initial claim: delays in advance payment, which effectively increases the five week wait to six weeks.
  • The three weeks commencing 25th March showed a 22% increase in UC claimants contacting CitAL with access to digital technology issues, compared to the three previous weeks.
  • Recommendation to pause the repayment of advance payments, to allow claimants a chance to recover from the financial shock of Covid-19.
  • Increased numbers of claimants coming from new demographic groups such as the self-employed and those with mortgaged properties. These claimants have particular problems with supplying the evidence required for claims, especially those having to prove Habitual Residence. Those with mortgages cannot access support with mortgage interest repayments until nine consecutive months of UC have been paid.
  • Reduction in clients coming to CitAL for support with DWP sanctions.
  • Huge inequalities between those forced to rely on UC compared to those who are able to access alternative Covid-19 in-work support through the furlough scheme.

 

Universal Credit (UC) and the five week wait

  • Issues around verifying identification can delay the most needy claimants from accessing advance payments.
  • UC claimants may also suffer from debt and housing issues, which are exacerbated by the five week wait.
  • We welcome the proposed reduction of advance payment deductions from 30% to 25%, but feel this doesn’t go far enough. The increase in the repayment timetable from 12 months to 24 months may mean that client groups, such as families with more than two children, will struggle to cope for longer periods of time with reduced incomes.
  • We recommend that repayments of advances should be manageable, and set according to the claimants financial circumstances, and that they should be able to opt more easily into more frequent payment schedules.
  • We welcome the run-on of income based Jobseeker Allowance and Employment Support Allowance through the five week wait. However, for support to be equitable, there needs to be a financial equivalent for Tax Credit recipients and new benefit claimants.