Almost 20,000 new claims for Universal Credit (UC) in Northern Ireland have been received in the past fortnight, reports reveal.
The Department for Communities has said it usually deals with 1,600 new claims per week on average – but hundreds of thousands of people across the UK have applied for it following the outbreak of Coronavirus.
The government has said self-employed people who have lost their income because of the pandemic can access Universal Credit (UC) – but charities have warned that a strengthened social safety-net is needed to support those on lower incomes.
The Department for Communities (DfC), which oversees UC and other benefits in Northern Ireland, said its staff were working around the clock to help process new claims.
More than 10,000 new claims were received by the department last week, with a further 9,000 recorded so far this week.
DfC runs its own phone line for claims, separate to the Great Britain line operated by Westminster’s Department for Work and Pensions.
But the picture is much the same in Great Britain, with Peter Schofield, permanent secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, saying 477,000 new Universal Credit claims were made in the last nine days alone.
As reported by 24housing, reports on social media saw people waiting in online and telephone queues for hours on end, with the numbers in the tens of thousands.
A DfC spokesperson said its phoneline had received 4,183 calls on Tuesday alone (24th March), instead of its usual 1,600 per week, with 57 callers hanging up before their call was answered.
They added that no issue currently exists with online waiting times for NI claimants, but recognised that this is a “difficult and uncertain time for all”.