Universal Credit: Chancellor urged to make ‘immediate changes’ as coronavirus fears grow

Universal Credit is paid monthly, in arrears. This means that it can usually take around five weeks for a claimant to receive their first payment – a period of time which includes a four-week assessment period as well as up to seven days for the payment to reach the account.


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It may be that a person is able to get an advance payment during this time, however this must be repaid – with repayments starting out of the first payment.

Amid the outbreak of coronavirus, many may fear the potential impact on their finances, should they be required to self-isolate or they test positive for coronavirus.

As of 9am on March 9, 2020, 319 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, Public Health England confirmed.

Of these, three patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Citizens Advice is urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to shore up protections for millions of workers in the upcoming Budget, taking place on Wednesday.

In its response to the oubreak , the charity’s calls to the government include making immediate changes to Universal Credit.

Citizens Advice said it saw three times as many visits to its sick pay advice pages last week, compared to the same time last year.

The charity said that this is a warning that the current system for sick pay is “inadequate to deal with the potential scale of the coronavirus outbreak, and could push many into financial hardship”.

It adds that those affected include five million self-employed workers and at least 1.5 million in low-income jobs that fall below the earnings limit to qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP).

Citizens Advice has said it has growing concerns that the benefits systems is ill-equipped to respond quickly to those seeking financial support if they fall unwell or need to self-isolate.

Today, the charity has written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, urging him to take a series of steps in the Budget.

These are as follows:

Ensure SSP gives people enough to live on and follow through on the government’s proposal to set the level at 80 percent of statutory sick pay if they are below the current limit to qualify

Shorten the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit and consider waiving national insurance requirements for self-employed people to receive contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The growing outbreak is an unprecedented backdrop for this Budget.


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“Coronavirus won’t discriminate between those eligible for sick pay and people who simply cannot afford to fall unwell.

“We know this is something front of mind for millions of people who could face the impossible choice of working while ill or ignoring guidance to self-isolate.

“The Chancellor must set out plans to broaden the pool of people eligible for statutory sick pay and ensure that the benefits system can respond flexibly to those who need it. Otherwise millions could fall through the gaps.”

Earlier this month, the DWP urged Universal Credit claimants affected by the outbreak of coronavirus to get in touch with them, such as if they had to self-isolate.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our staff are ready to support people if they are affected – we urge them to contact us by phone, or their Work Coach via their online journal, to explain their situation.

“Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay is able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.”

The DWP has said that employers have been urged to ensure they use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate when it comes to making decisions about sick pay.

People who are prevented from working because of a risk to public health are able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

The DWP adds that Universal Credit is designed to adjust depending on people’s earnings or other income. If a person works less hours due to self-isolating, they are being directed to let the DWP know via their online journal.

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