Advance payments for Universal Credit claimants must be given as grants, not loans, to prevent a “coronavirus debt crisis”, the Salvation Army has said.
Claimants wait five weeks for a first payment after applying for the benefit but can take out an advance loan to help during this time. But the Salvation Army insists that this could plunge thousands of citizens into debt, calling it a “point of critical failure that the Government must address”.
Since the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has seen a surge in benefits claims, with almost half a million made in just nine days in March. Around a quarter, 70,000 out of around 270,000 Universal Credit applications in one week, applied for an advance payment.
The Work and Pensions committee wrote to the DWP on 25 March asking how many of those who applied for a payment since 16 March had received it, and the average length of time they waited.
Rebecca Keating, the Salvation Army’s director of employment plus, said:
The Universal Credit loan system could cause a coronavirus debt crisis.
Thousands of people who never thought they would have to rely on state support are now making a Universal Credit claim.
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
Many of these will be forced to take out the bridging loan which will just move their money problems five weeks down the line.
We are particularly concerned by those working on zero hour contracts that don’t have the same legal rights of other employees.
Many will not have a financial safety net to help avoid getting into debt straight away.
Requiring a loan could mean people having to choose between buying food or repaying the funds, the Salvation Army stressed. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the organisation said it had seen an increase in people using food banks so they could put money toward paying off their loan.
Support us and go ad-free
Not only will this add stress for people already struggling with the fall-out from the pandemic, but also leave a lasting legacy if too many people are shouldering too much avoidable debt.
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.