With the economy collapsing and people losing their jobs, it was inevitable coronavirus was going to increase the burden on the welfare system significantly.

The latest figures show nearly one million people have tried to claim Universal Credit - the UK's main benefit - in the last two weeks and ever since Boris Johnson placed the UK into a state of near-lockdown.

In the last 16 days 950,000 people have applied for Universal Credit - a massive 850 per cent increase on the average 100,000 claims lodged in any given two-week period.

PM Boris Johnson announced stringent measures to protect the public from coronavirus

Unsurprisingly, the surge in demand has put the system under huge strain and forced some people to wait hours in telephone queues, leaving many worried they may not be able to access cash at this crucial time.

Here Hull Live answers some of your key Universal Credit questions.

Am I eligible for Universal Credit?

If you want to apply for Universal Credit you must be on a low income or out of work, and over the age of 18 (although there are some exceptions if you are 16 or 17). You must be under the state pension age of 67, live in the UK and have savings of £16,000 or less between you and your partner.

People who are being directed towards Universal Credit because of coronavirus include some of the the self-employed and freelancers who do not qualify for the government's package for the self-employed.

To have 80 per cent of your earnings covered by the state you must derive the majority of your income for self-employed work, have filed a 2018/19 tax return and have profits of £50,000 or less for the year.

And even for the self-employed that do qualify, there is a wait until June when the scheme is rolled out. To plug that gap, the self-employed are allowed to claim for Universal Credit.

How much can I claim?

Universal Credit claimants receive a standard allowance with more added if you have children, a health condition or difficulty paying your rent.

If you're single and under 25, the standard monthly payment is £251.77. If you're over 25, it is £317.82.

For those in a couple who are both under 25 the payment is £395.20 for the both of you, and £498.89 if you are 25 or over.

Universal Credit payments have been temporarily topped up to match the rate of statutory sick pay for employees of £94.25 a week because of the coronavirus outbreak.

What are the problems?

Over the past couple of weeks social media has been awash with stories of people stuck in queues for days either online while trying to verify their identity or on the phone.

One woman even said she had made 76 calls get in the queue, while others complained that calls were being cut off.

DWP
There have been reported delays in contacting DWP due to a spike in claims

What can I do to beat the queues?

While online and phone services will be both be busy, the DWP advises claimants to avoid using the system during peak hours, between 11am and 2pm, if they can.

They also ask those who have access to the internet use it to make claims to free up the phone service for those who do not have the internet.

For those who are already registered, the department advises they log onto their account out of peak times so it can get new claimants onto the system as quickly as possible.

The DWP is also pointing people towards newly announced jobs in the retail sector if they do not want to apply for Universal Credit.

Will I get a call back?

In order to accept claims for Universal Credit, the DWP must first verify your identity. If you fail to reach this stage or get cut off, you will get a call back from the department.

What is the government doing about it?

The government says it is taking "urgent action" to boost capacity, and has moved 10,000 existing staff, such as back office staff, on to the front line, with more recruitments in the pipeline.

On Wednesday night, work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said Universal Credit was "standing up to the challenge as nearly a million people have made a claim in the last fortnight and our tremendous DWP civil servants are working flat out to process them".

"We know our phonelines and IT systems are busy, but rest assured that we are all on it," she said.

However, the Labour party has said the surge in claims was "truly shocking".

What do I do if I need money quickly to pay bills?

One of the main features of Universal Credit which is under constant criticism in the five-week wait for their first payment.

The DWP says that those who need cash urgently we be able to apply for an advance. Once you have applied for Universal Credit and know the amount you are entitled to, you can apply to get a full month's payment straight away.

However, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood says advances are "not the answer to the five week wait" because they are loans which ultimately have to be paid back.

"People need help now, but neither the job retention scheme nor the self-employment income support scheme are up and running, and two million self-employed people will not be covered at all," she said.

"The government should turn advances into non-repayable grants to end the five week wait and make sure people get the support they need quickly at a level that genuinely protects them from poverty. They must also urgently revisit both the job retention scheme and the self-employment scheme."

If you are having difficulty accessing universal credit you can contact Citizens Advice for more help on their website or by calling 03444 111 444.