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Universal Credit claimants struggle to apply ahead of limits on in-person appointments

Jobcentres will limit face-to-face appointments from Tuesday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

People attempting to claim Universal Credit online or over the phone have reported issues as in-person appointments are limited due to the coronavirus outbreak.

As the outbreak continues, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has reported a rise in claims for Universal Credit (UC) as the virus affects employers and those seeking work.

Those eligible for benefits have been asked to apply online and only call if necessary, and requirements to attend the jobcentre in person were suspended on Thursday.

It was announced on Monday that reviews and reassessments for disability benefits are also being suspended for the next three months.

However, many people have shared their frustration that they had been unable to contact the service online or on the phone ahead of a limit on physical access to jobcentres.

Jobcentre Plus – stock
A view of the Jobcentre Plus office in Lisson Grove, north west London (Nick Ansell/PA)

From Tuesday, members of the public will not be allowed into the buildings unless they have a booked appointment or cannot access services other than by face to face, including homeless people and other vulnerable claimants.

This also comes as Boris Johnson ordered a lockdown on Monday evening, only allowing people to leave their homes for limited reasons.

Several people have reported problems with the online system as well as being unable to contact the department on the phone ahead of the limit.

Dewi Sarginson, a 25-year-old actor from London, said she intends to go to the jobcentre despite the advice against travel as she could not contact the DWP online or through the phone.

She told the PA news agency: “Our industry has been completely paralysed by Covid-19. I have been trying to apply for UC for a week now.

“I get through the form but it will not confirm my identity…They then ask for you to call them to make an appointment.

“No-one I know can get through.”

Coronavirus
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said people should apply online to allow people to be helped effectively (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

She added: “Tomorrow I plan on going over the jobcentre, as my rent is out tomorrow and after I pay that I won’t have much left.

“I know it’s not advised to leave the house but I have to. I am not sick but simply trying to do the right thing.”

Joe Loynds, 25, from Manchester, said the phone lines were “clogged up” as he tried to apply for Universal Credit.

He said: “I’m now on Week two of Universal Credit applications, where I’m trying to get through to them because the system demands that you phone for a first appointment, instead of giving you one online.

“We are seeing capitalism failing in real-time and the best answer the DWP service can give me is to contact my jobcentre who don’t want to have me contact them.

“So now imagine people on their last penny with no back-up, desperately trying to get through.”

The DWP said it is moving 10,000 existing staff to focus on processing new claims and is expected to recruit an additional 1,500 people.

However, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey stressed that people need to claim online to allow people to be helped effectively.

She said: “Our jobcentres are fully committed to supporting people facing challenges during these extraordinary times.

“To help people most effectively and efficiently, we need people to claim online.

“If you cannot get online, phone us for help and we will only see people face to face in our jobcentres if invited.”

PA