I watched the Work & Pensions Committee this morning hoping to pick up the latest news on Coronavirus and the measures being put in place to assist those affected by the pandemic. In attendance was the latest Secretary of State Dr Theresa Coffey, and her Permanent Secretary answering questions from the new Chair Stephen Timms MP and a group of MPs’.

DWP first provided an update. In the past week, it received nearly 500,000 new claims for assistance, with over 100,000 on Tuesday. Claims mainly relate to Universal Credit but there’s also 70,000 claims for advance payments.

Mr Timms and his colleagues were anxious to hear how DWP planned to cope with this vast increase in demand for its services.

Dr Coffey and the Permanent Secretary explained:

  1. That in addition to the already 6,500 strong team of Universal Credit staff, it’s hoping to re-deploy 10,000 staff from Jobcentres, back-office and corporate teams to assist: and
  2. The primary focus of these staff will be to progress UC claims and make payments, hopefully, in most cases, within the usual 5-week period; and
  3. Its systems had easily coped with the initial deluge of claims being logged. The difficult part is to now progress these, through the ID and validation process, usually carried out when claimants meet their Work Coaches. This will be done primarily by staff making outbound calls to claimants in the hope of being able to confirm the identity and secure any relevant information to progress the claim; and
  4. Many DWP staff are now working from home due to self-isolating but can still contribute to the processing of claims, by logging in to the UC system, using 2000 new laptops with another 3,000 on order. But these staff can’t make outbound calls, that’s down to the Service Centre teams.

By concentrating their effort on claims management & payment, many of the usual processes, that apply to existing claimants, like, face-to-face claimant commitment interviews, job-search, periodic reviews, reassessments, sanctioning will all be put on hold temporarily.

Over the next few weeks, many more claims will be made. Let’s hope, DWP’s overnight restructuring and redeployment works, as many thousands of families are depending on them to deliver.

Those existing Housing Benefit and Universal Credit claimants should not experience any real short-term problems. Obviously, if any, are directly or indirectly affected by the virus, that still needs to be reported to DWP via their journals (e.g. self-isolating, infection, drop or loss of income, must all be reported). They can also look forward to an increase of around £20 per week in their Standard Allowance and for those renting from Private landlords, the possibility of an increase in their eligible rent, due to the LHA rates being increased from 1st April in line with the 30th percentile. Where they’re currently paying a top-up that should be reduced or extinguished by this measure.

I’ll keep you posted of any further changes.

Bill Irvine

UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd