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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Covid 19 causes 80% increase in UC claims

Over 126,000 people in Northern Ireland were claiming Universal Credit on 26 April 2020, an increase of 80% from the figure of 70,000 claimants just 8 weeks earlier on 1 March, according to recently released information from the Department for Communities. The number of applications during that 8-week period totalled 65,700. As the immediate impact of the crisis reached its peak in mid-March, the Department recorded a tenfold increase in new claims.

Applications peak in week beginning 23 March

20,300 individuals made a claim in the week beginning 23 March. Following this peak, there has been a drop off with 4100 individual claims made between 20 and 26 April. However, this remains substantially above the levels of claims made before lockdown.

The trend therefore demonstrates a continued high demand for Universal Credit, as figures have not yet returned to anywhere near pre-lockdown levels.

Increased proportion of claims paid on expected date

Importantly, the figures also indicate an increased proportion of claims are being paid on the expected date. This may reflect the urgency of the crisis and the corresponding effort to meet demand and crucially provide some stability for those struggling during the economic downturn.

Increased percentage of claims paid in full and on time

The released statistics include figures on new UC claims and the proportion of these paid or not paid in full. There was a significant number of new claims paid the week beginning 20th April (5460), especially when compared to the previous week (1330), which reflects the 5-week process between application and payment.

Interestingly, the proportion of new claims paid in full and on time between 2nd March and 20th April increased by 2.9%. Such figures reflect the serious efforts being taken to continue to meet demand as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Uptake of advances

Applicants for Universal Credit can request an advance payment if they are in financial need and are concerned about the long five-week wait for the first payment.

While the figures indicate a significant uptake in advance payments from March into April, when placed in the context of the overall growth in claims they represent a steep decline in the percentage of claimants seeking advance payment.

For example, from the week beginning 9th March there were 3900 claims and 1380 advance payments while the following week there were 24,080 claims but only 2,040 advance payments. This signifies a drop in the percentage of claimants requesting advance payment from 35% to 8%. Until the week beginning 6th April the percentage of advance uptake remains exceptionally low before bouncing back then stabilising.

This suggests, on average, the new claimants impacted by lockdown measures have significantly less need for advance payments than pre-existing claimants.

Geographical spread of claimants

The information release contains data on the number of Universal Credit live cases in different areas of Northern Ireland at 01/03/20 and 26/04/20. The increase shown between these dates is not particularly localised due to the universal impact lockdown has had across Northern Ireland. Figures detail the numbers of UC live cases by Jobs and Benefit Offices across the Belfast, North and South regions. There was an 84.4% rise in UC cases across NI from March to 26th April, broken down regionally as

  • a 91% increase in Southern region
  • an 83.9% increase in Belfast
  • a 78% increase in the Northern region

Overall, the increase is not massively impacted by any rural/urban divide as there are considerable increases in UC caseloads across all offices. Covid-19 has clearly damaged the economic and social wellbeing of many of us regardless of our location. Therefore, social security is playing a more significant role than ever before in providing a safety net for those who face increasingly difficult circumstances amidst this global crisis.

Release in response to significant interest in applications

The Department for Communities (DfC) released this information relating to the uptake in Universal Credit (UC) as a result of significant interest in UC applications as a result of Covid-19. The next scheduled statistical release will still be in August 2020 and this information update does not replace those statistics.

The Management Information (MI) has been drawn from data extracts from the administration systems used to manage and process claims for Universal Credit. While not derived from the same methodology as official statistics, these figures nonetheless highlight unprecedented levels of demand for Universal Credit.

Tagged In

Benefits, Coronavirus, Welfare Reform

This article was written on 12 May 2020. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.