Coronavirus: Tell us your stories of benefit claims, say MPs

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MPs have asked people to tell them of their experiences of trying to claim benefits during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Work and Pensions Committee wants to hear from first-time applicants as well as those already using the system.

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

Committee chairman Stephen Timms said the number of new claims was “unprecedented”.

The Labour MP added that the committee would like to hear from people to “better understand the issues faced by people who rely on the benefits system”.

The surge in claimants follow government measures to limit the spread of the virus, including closing pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.

'Exceptional demand'

The latest figures on universal credit claimants were revealed in a letter to the MPs from the top civil servant at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

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

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

This included 1.8m calls between 23-27 March, he said, alongside 2.2m on 30 March and another 1.8m on 31 March.

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

Universal credit is a consolidated monthly payment for those of working-age, which replaced a host of previous benefits including income-based jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

In October 2019, there were 2.6 million universal credit claimants - just over a third of whom were in work.

Mr Timms said: “The DWP’s front line staff are making a herculean effort to deal with the unprecedented numbers of new claims for universal credit, and we thank them for everything they’re doing at such a difficult time.

“I know they will be focused on making sure that people who need money urgently get their payments as quickly as possible.

"We are keen to hear about any specific problems claiming benefits, and also more generally about whether people are getting enough money to support themselves and their families during these immensely difficult days.”