Coronavirus: Universal credit claims almost double in NI

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The number of people claiming universal credit in Northern Ireland has almost doubled in two months.

On 1 March, 70,000 people were claiming the payment, but by 26 April, that figure had risen to 126,000.

When non-essential businesses closed in mid-March, applications rose ten-fold, said NI’s Department for Communities.

Millions of people across the UK have applied for the benefit due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The government had also said self-employed people who lost their income because of the pandemic could access universal credit.

It was among a range of measures announced by the chancellor to bolster the economy against the impact of the disease.

Unprecedented numbers

Universal credit is a monthly payment for people of working-age, which replaced a host of previous benefits including income-based jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

The Department for Communities usually deals with 1,600 new claims for universal credit per week, but said the pandemic has led to “unprecedented numbers” of people trying to access the benefit.

The total number of applications for universal credit in Northern Ireland during March and April totalled 65,700, with the majority of those claims being submitted when the scale of the crisis became clear, in mid-March.

The department said it had made 99.1% of all payments due over that period on time.

Support for ‘most affected’

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the “huge increase” in claims reflected the scale of job losses and the impact of the virus on people’s lives.

“From the start of this crisis, my priority has been to ensure that the most vulnerable and those most in need across our society receive all the support and financial help that is available to them,” she added.

“My department will continue to do all it can to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and I remain determined to ensure that those most affected continue to receive all the support they are entitled to.”

Last week, Ms Hargey said £1.3m of emergency support had been paid out so far in Northern Ireland, during the crisis.

She also said on Monday 27 April alone, 850 new applications were made for universal credit, indicating that the total number of people claiming on the scheme will continue to rise.

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