Hardship bites as 2,300 benefit claims made to Ipswich council during coronavirus crisis

Benefit claims have risen sharply in Ipswich since the coronavirus crisis started. Picture: SARAH LU

Benefit claims have risen sharply in Ipswich since the coronavirus crisis started. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A shocking picture of the hardship caused by the coronavirus crisis has emerged – after Ipswich council revealed it had received 2,300 benefit claims in less than two months.

However, many of those needing support with council tax have what could be an agonising wait to get funds at the very time they need them – because of the five-week statutory period to find out if they are entitled to Universal Credit.

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The authority said the claims between March 1 and April 26 were, at one point, nearly 10 times more than its usual weekly average – with the UK-wide lockdown enforced on March 23 sparking a huge rise in calls for support.

While the tough restrictions were necessary to prevent the spread of the disease and ultimately save lives, the closure of businesses caused many to lose their jobs and income.

While Ipswich Borough Council was receiving around 100 claims a week in the three weeks before the lockdown – itself above the usual average of around 50 claims a month – that shot up to nearly 250 a week later.

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The number of applications it received in a single week peaked at 485, in the week ending April 12.

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However a statement in the council’s weekly coronavirus update said: “Many of these are from customers who claimed Universal Credit (UC) and must wait at least five weeks – the statutory ‘waiting’ period – to find out if they are entitled to UC before the council can determine an award of Local Council Tax Support.”

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In addition to the new claims, more than 17,700 changes of circumstance notifications have been received by Ipswich council in the same period.

These will include changes in employment, hours of work or wages but also changes in tax credits or UC entitlement.

Citizens Advice in Ipswich has said it has had to deal with hundreds of queries regarding benefits.

Deputy manager Nelleke van Helfteren said: “We’re seeing a lot of people struggling simply because they’ve never had to access the benefits system.”

She has also said the pandemic “will have lasting consequences for the most vulnerable and those households who never thought they were in that category”.

However, the borough council has encouraged those affected by the coronavirus crisis to make applications for Discretionary Housing Payments to help them through the crisis.

The authority receives discretionary funding from government every year to support those who need it, even if those people may be receiving housing benefit or UC.

“The council generally use this discretionary funding to help customers who are affected by the Local Housing Allowance rent restrictions or the Bedroom Tax but have specific reasons why they could not look for alternative, cheaper accommodation,” the council’s weekly coronavirus update said.

“Applications from customers who have been affected as a consequence of the coronavirus emergency are welcome.

“Short-term assistance can help prevent rent arrears accruing while customers wait to return to their normal employment or hours of work.”

People can visit this Ipswich Borough Council page to make an application.

Contact Citizens Advice Ipswich on 0300 330 1151 or visit the Citizens Advice Ipswich website.

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