Universal Credit: ‘A fatal flaw’ MP reveals fears for Britons hit by coronavirus crisis

Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), was asked about the surge in demand today, in which she revealed that 1.4 million people have claimed Universal Credit during the coronavirus crisis, while a further 200,000 have applied for “more historic” benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.

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According to DWP figures, at least 365,000 advance payments have now been processed during the crisis – providing money for those who need it during the five-week wait for their first payment.

Following the Secretary of State’s interview on BBC Breakfast, Stephen Timms, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, spoke to Victoria Derbyshire about the figures.

When asked whether he thought the system was coping well in the unprecedented times, he replied: “The IT has coped and that is a good thing and I think the Department is entitled to be pleased about that because it could have collapsed under the weight of applications.

“The big question in my mind is are people who are asking for an advance, who need money urgently, are they getting it urgently or not?

“Now, the figure you’ve just given suggests that only quite a small proportion of the people applying for Universal Credit have so far got an advance.

“Is that because they don’t need an advance, or is it because the Department isn’t coping with the scale of the demand?

“I think the Department probably is struggling to get teh money out of the door as fast as they should do,” he added.

The MP went on to discuss the five-week wait, and pointed out issues which have arisen from this part of the system.

“The big problem about Universal Credit is that once you’ve applied you don’t get your first regular benefit payment for five weeks.

“I think that’s a fatal flaw in the whole system.

“You can ask for what they call an advance, in reality, it’s a loan, which should enable you to get some cash quickly.”

Mr Timms added that the premise of the five-week wait assumes that claimants have enough savings to live on during this period.

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During an interview on BBC Breakfast today, Ms Coffey was asked whether she was worried about the people who are fearful of falling short of financial support during the coronavirus crisis.

She responded: “They should be able to get that support.”

Ms Coffey pointed out that the DWP has changed the process for claiming the payment in response to the coronavirus crisis, and the “huge number” of phone calls the Department hence received.

She added: “I’m confident the system is working, I’m confident that people will start to get their money next week, and also, anyone who has asked for an advance has been able to get it in the last few weeks as well.”

Universal Credit payments are made once per month, following the first payment.

It can usually take around five weeks for the first payment to be made, with this period being made up of a one month assessment period as well as up to seven days for the payment to be made.

During this time, a claimant may be able to apply for an advance, however this must be paid back.

The repayments begin out of the first payment, and currently, it must be paid back within 12 months.

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