Coronavirus: 68% spike in Islington Universal Credit claims during lockdown as rent arrears increase by ‘nearly £1million’

Undated file photo of signage outside the Department of Works and Pensions in central London. Union

Undated file photo of signage outside the Department of Works and Pensions in central London. Union leaders are calling for an emergency boost to Universal Credit to help people get through the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Chris Young - Credit: PA

There was a 68% increase in people claiming for Universal Credit in Islington between March 11 and April 23.

The number of claims made for Universal Credit via the borough’s two job centres increased from 13,300 on March 11 to 21,955 on April 10.

This has coincided with a “nearly £1million increase” in rent arrears among Islington Council tenants over the past five weeks, according to finance chief Cllr Satnam Gill.

The UK went into lockdown on March 23, and many people have since applied for the benefit after losing their jobs or opportunities for self-employed work.

Cllr Gill said: “It is really disappointing that despite our campaign for action, the government has failed to cut the five-week wait for payments to new Universal Credit claimants. Now coronavirus is sending applicant numbers through the roof, that wait could be even longer.

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“There are huge numbers of people on zero-hours contracts living in Islington, without the savings to see them through lean times. Their work has dried up overnight, meaning thousands more people are at risk of falling into poverty in the coming days and weeks. They need help now.

“Their rent arrears and other debts will be rising as I speak, and it will take many people years to pay them off – some may even be forced out of their homes. The impact of this daily stress cannot be underestimated.

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“We campaigned for an end to the five-week wait long before anyone had heard of coronavirus, and are doing everything we can to mitigate its worst effects on the most vulnerable in our society, from help with council tax to the We Are Islington support line to food parcels and much more. It’s time for the government to step up.”

Universal Credit combines six working-age benefits, including Job Seeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit, into one online-only monthly payment.

Cllr Troy Gallagher (Lab, Bunhill) is vice chair of the policy and performance scrutiny committee which has closely monitoring the roll-out of the government’s flagship welfare reform since June 2018.

Cllr Gallagher told the Gazette he supported 13 constituents with Universal Applications in a five-day period earlier this month.

He said: “We as a council are doing everything we can to support our residents through this crisis. We are seeing the best of Islington, one Islington, with tremendous community spirit shown across the borough; all pulling together in a huge national effort not seen since the Second Word War to ensure we all get through this and protect our families, elderly and the most vulnerable.”

On March 20, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government was, for 12 months, increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance by £1,000 a year.

A DWP spokesperson said:“These are challenging times, but Universal Credit is providing a vital safety net to those affected by the pandemic and we’ve taken action by injecting over £6.5 billion to support people on the welfare system, along with the other job and business support programmes announced by the chancellor.”

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