The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged to reconsider its decision not to turn advance payments for Universal Credit into grants, after new figures showed that 1.9 million people have made a claim since 16 March 2020.
Citizens Advice warns that although the rate of new claims appears to have stabilised, as claimed by Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, frontline advisors are preparing themselves for a potential “second wave” in the summer.
Furthermore, the job retention scheme is currently due to end on 30th June, which could lead to further job losses.
The charity’s benefit advisors say many people they support with Universal Credit can face hardship as a result of the five-week wait until their first payment, or risk getting into debt by taking out an advance payment.
Hairdresser Desislava, 33, lost her job in March and applied for Universal Credit and quickly fell into rent arrears and was evicted by her landlord.
“Losing my job and my home was horrible,” she said. “I was shaking and crying because I thought I might end up sleeping rough. I tried my best to look for another job, but nobody has one – it’s a global pandemic.
“I applied for Universal Credit but when I saw the amount I’d receive I realised it wouldn’t be enough to live on and cover my bills.
“While I wait for my first payment I’ve managed to get an advance of £300 which needs to last me until 4th June, but I’m getting stressed and worried about how I’ll survive on that.
“I then need to repay my advance over the next year. £25 a month doesn’t sound like a lot to to pay off, but I know it will be a struggle.
“Particularly as the amount I’m set to get each month won’t even cover my rent and living costs.”
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The dizzying number of Universal Credit claims since March is a grim reflection of just how many people have seen their income swept away by coronavirus.
“Decisive action from the government means hundreds of thousands of claims have been processed.
“The next step is to support people during the five-week wait without putting them at risk of debt problems in the future.
“With a potential second wave of claims looming, now is the time for the government to further strengthen the safety net by turning advance payments into grants.”