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Coronavirus: Nearly 20,000 new universal credit claims in Northern Ireland

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There has been nearly 20,000 new universal credit claims in the past fortnight.

There has been nearly 20,000 new universal credit claims in the past fortnight.

There has been nearly 20,000 new universal credit claims in the past fortnight.

Nearly 20,000 people have applied for universal credit in Northern Ireland over the past two weeks as people are hit by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The BBC has reported that more than 10,000 claims were made last week, followed by 9,000 so far this week.

The Department for Communities (DfC) normally processes around 1,600 new applications a week.

A number of Northern Ireland businesses had initially announced plans to temporarily lay off staff before the UK Government announced a financial package to pay 80% of workers, while others have lost income due to the strict measures introduced to combat the virus.

A DfC spokesperson told the BBC that staff in its dedicated call centre for dealing with claims had responded to 4,183 calls on Tuesday alone.

The spokesperson said that claims were still being processed in a timely manner, with staff working around the clock, but acknowledged that it was a "difficult and uncertain time for all".

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Matt Dunham/PA)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Matt Dunham/PA)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Matt Dunham/PA)

The UK Government is expected to announce a support package for the self employed on Thursday. Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that self-employed people who had been affected by the coronavirus outbreak could apply for universal credit.

The payment is currently £94.25 a week and the UK Government has been critcised for not providing support for the self-employed sooner.

Speaking on Tuesday Mr Sunak said that providing a support package for the self employed was "incredibly complicated", but promised to deliver measures that were "deliverable and fair".

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which handles universal claims in the rest of the UK, said it had received almost half a million benefit claims in the past week.

Around 477,000 claims have been “processed” since last Tuesday, with 105,000 being made for Universal Credit on Tuesday this week, said DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield.

The unprecedented pressure and volume of new claims has led to people reporting delays, being unable to get through on the phone and struggling to reach advisers.

It comes as the department’s website, Understanding Universal Credit, received approximately 200,000 hits last week.

The Universal Credit benefit was introduced in Northern Ireland in September 2017 for new benefit claimants.

The new system merged six previous benefits into one and has come in for criticism with many recipients complaining of delays in their first payments and cuts to their benefits.

Belfast Telegraph