As the country starts to open up, we’re acutely aware that many of our customers are in a completely different place to where they were in February 2020. Whether it be due to bereavement, job loss, reduced hours or relationship break ups. But what really stands out is the impact the pandemic had and is still having on people’s finances. For some lockdown meant they saved money and have come out of it financially better off. But many experienced a dramatic fall in their income – something they did not ever foresee happening and have had to turn to Universal Credit to help them make ends meet. In March 2020, about 1.5 million UK households were claiming it, now the figure stands at about 6 million. Within our own customer base, our numbers have now more than doubled, rising from 4,000 to over 8,000.
Many of these people who claimed Universal Credit for the first time - because they lost their job, had to shield, or were furloughed for example - found themselves surprised by how little money they were given to live on. With existing financial commitments that they had been able to pay before the pandemic still requiring regular payment, the sudden loss of income hit them hard. To help manage the situation many were facing, the government increased the Universal Credit standard allowance for adults by £20 per week and there was a similar increase for those on Working Tax Credits (but not on legacy benefits e.g., Job Seekers Allowance). It has since been announced that this £20 uplift will come to an end in September, and we fear this will have a significant effect on the household income of those claiming Universal Credit.
Over the last 15 months we’ve helped a large number of customers who were furloughed, or who lost their paid or self-employed work. Like many others, the team had to adapt the way that they worked; they moved to giving advice by phone and online. They became adept at guiding customers in how to download copies of their payment screens and sending them to us via email, for us to check. This was vital because the team identified multiple errors in the way customers’ awards had been calculated, not surprising considering the number of new recruits. We’ve worked hard to raise these issues with the DWP either by giving customers the necessary wording to put in their journal, by making 3-way phone calls with the DWP and the customer, or by raising the problems with local JCPs and DWP Partnership Managers.
Our customers have really appreciated this help and as responsible housing association and service provider, our focus is on ensuring customers aren’t afraid or embarrassed to ask for help and are being provided with the financial support they’re entitled to. Some of them had never had to claim benefits before, found the process quite complex and were shocked at the amount they were entitled to receive – which took into account the £20 temporary uplift.
As the end of the £20 a week temporary Universal Credit uplift approaches and the furlough scheme comes to an end, we encourage those seeking financial support to reach out and not be afraid to ask for help.
Our customers have really appreciated this help and as responsible housing association and service provider, our focus is on ensuring customers aren’t afraid or embarrassed to ask for help and are being provided with the financial support they’re entitled to.