Hundreds of thousands of people have applied for universal credit following the UK outbreak of Covid-19.
The Department for Work and Pensions said on Wednesday 477,000 people had applied for the benefit in the past nine days and they were redeploying thousands of civil servants to help process the claims.
Thérèse Coffey MP, the work and pensions secretary, said: “In the last nine days we’ve processed nearly half a million claims.
“We don’t know if they’re self-employed or at different stages, and I want to assure people that help, even if it’s not currently the level of help they would like, is there to help them through the safety net of the welfare state.”
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is due to give more details of support for the country’s 5 million self-employed people later this week as it emerged thousands of people applying for universal credit are facing huge online queues.
One person Tweeted that there were 145,000 people ahead of them waiting to access the claims website with wait times of more than an hour.
The minister was answering questions from the work and pensions select committee alongside Peter Schofield, the department’s permanent secretary, who set out how he has drastically redeployed staff to try and process the claims.
Processing universal credit claims is now the department’s main focus as it is experiencing an “unprecedented” volume of people contacting them and seeking benefits, he said. Seventy thousand of the claims were from those asking for an advance, suggesting people began to struggle with money as soon the virus began to spread more widely.
“We made a decision that managing claims and making payments is a number one priority for DWP. Operationally we can deprioritise other things,” he said.