With many businesses across the country closing as a result of the pandemic, some people have found themselves out of a job. The government has advised those who are unemployed or ineligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to apply for the benefit through the Department for Work and Pensions. As a result, over 1.4 million people have applied for the benefit to help them during difficult financial times.
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Britons are eligible to receive the benefit if on low income or out of work, 18 or over, under State Pension age, and have £16,000 or less in savings.
Universal Credit is usually paid monthly for those entitled to the payment and can often replace other benefits.
For those new to the system, the first payment of Universal Credit usually takes five weeks to be processed.
However, an advance on this payment can be applied for.
Those who are struggling to pay their bills or cover additional costs can apply to receive an advance to help them.
The amount a claimant can borrow is up to their first estimated Universal Credit monthly payment.
To apply for an advance, a claimant must let the DWP know the reason why they need the advance, and provide verification of their identity when applying online or over the phone.
Bank account details must also be provided so the money can be paid if the advance is agreed.
Claimants will usually find out on the same day if entitled to an advance.
Although campaigners have tried to petition the DWP to lower the wait time, the government has confirmed this is not possible.
Universal Credit director-general, Neil Couling, told a press briefing: “If you play about with the architecture of Universal Credit, you won’t be able to pat the vast millions we have to pay each month.”
Mr Couling said 87 percent of people would be paid in full within five weeks, but admitted reaching 100 percent of claimants within this time was not achievable.
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He added the problem with Universal Credit could potentially worsen as thousands more people look to apply.
Many Britons have reported waiting hours on the phone to speak to an operator, or waiting online to access the overloaded claim website.
The Universal Credit system has also been harshly critiqued by former MP Frank Field.
The former chair of the Work and Pensions committee told The Independent: “There are bound to be many who don’t get it within five weeks, particularly as you’ve got people doing the processing who I doubt have had the proper training.
“We need money now. We’re in a new politics as far as Universal Credit goes.
“I think it’s the beginning of the end of this deeply flawed benefit as we know it.”
Permanent Secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions, Peter Schofield, told a select committee that calls to the Universal Credit helpline totalled 5.8 million over a seven day period.
An inquiry will now be undertaken to investigate the efficacy of the system, and how it has responded to the coronavirus outbreak.
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