Universal Credit claimants have been facing five-weeks waits which could grow longer as more and more people attempt to lodge a claim during the coronavirus outbreak. Work and Pensions parliamentary committee chair Stephen Timms urged the British Government to make loans taken out to cover for the delay “non-repayable” for the duration of the crisis. Speaking to talkRADIO, the Labour MP said: “With Universal Credit, you don’t get your first regular benefit payment for five weeks and I don’t think that’s going to be sustainable.
“You can get a loan very quickly to cover you through the first five weeks but then you have to repay it from your subsequent benefit payment and it’s only £94 a week.
“Trying to survive on that and repay the loan you got for the first five weeks is going to be terribly, terribly hard.
“I think the Government should just say that advance is going to be non-repayable, at least for the duration of this crisis.”
Mr Timms had insisted the five-week waiting period is a key problem in the universal credit system, pointing out help was readily available to claimants in the past.
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Mr Timms added: “I think the five-week wait is the fundamental problem.
“A Conservative MP in the House of Commons last week described it as the fatal flaw with Universal Credit.
“In the past, you applied for jobseekers allowance, you got it within about a week or working days.”
Applicants have lamented long queues online, with some finding themselves behind as many as 100,000 other claimants, despite the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) urging Britons to use online services rather than phoning in.
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Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey confirmed on Wednesday nearly half a million people had applied for universal credit in the past nine days as she insisted the system should be able to cope with the demands.
The DWP however announced 2,000 additional staff members are to be brought in to handle the growing requests in the coming days.
Britons have been left struggling with their finances due to self-isolation and Government-enforced closures put in place over the past week.
DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield has so far resisted calls for changes to the system, including the removal of the five-week waiting period.
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Mr Schofield said: “The best way to deliver at these volumes is to keep the system as it’s going and to drive it forward.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week announced universal credit and other benefits will increase to £1,000 from April in response to the rapid impact the coronavirus is having on the UK’s economy.
The Chancellor also announced statutory sick pay for self-employed workers, who will have to make their claim through the universal credit system.
Current statutory sick pay stands at £94.25 a week with workers being able to receive sick pay for up to 28 weeks.
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