Great Britain

Universal Credit claimants no longer need to call to start claims as 1.2million sign-up for benefits

UNIVERSAL Credit claimants no longer need to call for a phone interview as the government attempts to speed-up the process.

It comes as new figures reveal 1.2million people successfully claimed the benefit since March 16 when the  UK coronavirus outbreak began.

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Previously, claimants of Universal Credit, which rolls six legacy benefits into one, had to claim online and then call for a phone interview.

But the Department for Work and Pension's (DWP) phone lines struggled to cope leaving people on hold for hours, and it eventually resorted to returning calls where people couldn't get through.

However, it's now taken things one step further by saying from today, claimants no longer need to call at all - they just have to apply online.

Where information from online applications needs to be checked or confirmed, DWP will call claimants proactively, as well as messaging them via their online journals.

What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit

IF you're experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don't cover costs, here are your options:

Apply for an advance - Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit pay out.

Alternative Payment Arrangements- If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.

Budgeting Advance - You may be able to get help from the government to help with emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.

Cut your Council Tax - You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your payments aren't enough to cover your rent.

Foodbanks - If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussel Trust website.

This means in some cases, you won't get a phone call at all as DWP says this now process replaces phone interviews.

If you miss a call, DWP says it will try again. And if you answer a call but you're busy or out, DWP says it will call you back.

Again, you can use your online journal to log this information.

Calls will continue to be made over weekends, including the forthcoming Easter bank holiday weekend, so don't be surprised if you hear from DWP then.

But DWP couldn't tell us how long to wait to expect a call once you've applied online.

It also warns that it will never ask for your bank details over the phone.

If you can't apply online, because you have no interest access or a medical condition or disability that means you can't use a computer, you can continue to apply by phone on 0800 328 5644 in the first instance.

For those who do apply online, we round-up the best times to apply when it's quietest online.

Brits are currently banned from visiting any jobcentre in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Benefit reviews and assessments have also been put on hold for three months so staff can instead focus on processing new applications.

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DWP had planned to hire 1,000 more people, but it's now going to take on 5,000 more.

It's also still in the process of redeploying 10,000 staff to help process Universal Credit claims.

Universal Credit payments rose for the first time in five years this week, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak laid out a number of temporary measures that will see another £20 a week added to payments on top.

Universal Credit and benefit debt repayments have also been paused during the coronavirus crisis, although Universal Credit advances still need to be repaid.

Secretary of state for work and pensions, Therese Coffey, said: “We are doing whatever it takes to make claiming benefits as straightforward as possible during a time when we are receiving an unprecedented number of claims.

“That’s why no one making a new claim to Universal Credit needs to call us.

“Once you’ve completed your online application, you can rest assured we have received your claim and we will call you if we need to check any of the information you’ve given us.”

Universal Credit phone lines jammed with laid off workers waiting hours to get through while Jobcentres remain closed

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