Ipswich sees huge rise in benefit claims as coronavirus crisis bites

PUBLISHED: 17:06 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:06 24 April 2020

Members of the public wear face masks in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Members of the public wear face masks in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN


Nearly 2,000 people in Ipswich have made benefit claims to their council in the space of a month to help them cope during the coronavirus crisis.

Nelleke van Helfteren, from Ipswich Citizens Advice. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYNelleke van Helfteren, from Ipswich Citizens Advice. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Ipswich Borough Council said it has received more than 1,700 claims between March 16 and April 15, which covers the period when people were first told to stop non-essential contact and the subsequent UK-wide lockdown to stop the spread of the disease.

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The authority said that was nearly 1,400 more claims than it was previously receiving in an average month, with almost 1,100 coming from new Universal Credit customers.

It comes as Citizens Advice in Ipswich said it has had to deal with more than 500 queries regarding benefits, with deputy manager Nelleke van Helfteren saying: “We’re seeing a lot of people struggling simply because they’ve never had to access the benefits system.”

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Ipswich council says it is “going to take some time to calculate all these awards” - yet on top of that, more than 10,000 notifications of changes of circumstances have been made.

The notifications, about 3,500 higher than in a normal average month, cover things such as reductions in working hours, wages and household income. However, the council has said some could duplicates.

Chief executive Russell Williams has said the crisis is a “huge and unsettling change from what we are all used to”.

Nationally, 1.5million households made claims for Universal Credit between March 1 and April 12.

MORE: All of the coronavirus news in Suffolk

Citizens Advice has said that 15% of people anticipate having to borrow money from friends or family to cope with the five-week wait before payment if they do have to apply for Universal Credit.

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Nicky Willshere, chief executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said that for many people, their “world has been turned upside down by coronavirus”.

She added: “The government has worked hard to shore up protections for workers and process soaring claims for Universal Credit.

“But we know that some people are still slipping through the safety net, often with desperate consequences.

“Plugging the remaining gaps in the employment support schemes could protect more jobs.

“And for those needing support from the benefits system, turning advance payments into a grant would really ease the burden.”

Ms van Helfteren said: “Since the lockdown, Citizens Advice Ipswich alone has dealt with over 500 cases where clients are seeking advice on benefits and how to claim them as well as worries about their work, and this is without our usual face to face service which helps the most vulnerable people in our community, many of whom currently cannot access our service due to lack of digital connectivity.

“Our advisers are receiving calls every day from people whose livelihood has simply disappeared due to this pandemic.

“Some lost their jobs or were in unstable work when the crisis hit, and others have no income until the self-employed support scheme kicks in.

“Staff are working flat out to help them with their concerns. Alongside issues with making an online application for Universal Credit, we’re seeing a lot of people struggling simply because they’ve never had to access the benefits system.

“There’s a huge demand for advice. We are bracing ourselves as we know that beyond lockdown we will be really stretched to help households get back on an even keel - financially, sorting housing issues, accessing benefits and getting back to work.

“It is not going to be simple or quick. This pandemic will have lasting consequences for the most vulnerable and those households who never thought they were in that category.

“We urge people not to worry alone - we are here to help.”

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

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