Financial benefits in the time of Covid-19: should you be claiming?

With tight restrictions and stay at home orders, Covid-19 almost immediately and irreversibly impacted how we work. For many, once certain employment became at risk as businesses began to shut up shop and we saw the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

Putting millions of workers on furlough, the scheme came into effect to keep people in jobs. However, earning 80% of their previous salary put many under financial strain. Moreover, as the pandemic restrictions continued, the outlook became bleaker, with unemployment rising and the recorded level of redundancies in September-November 2020 being at its highest in any quarter since records began in 1995.

The pandemic and the benefit claim surge 

This higher level of financial insecurity led many to seek help. Financial support charity, Turn2us, witnessed a surge in members of the public accessing information on benefits, the majority of whom were completely new to the benefits system.     

Welfare Benefits Project Manager at Turn2us, David Samson, saw a spike in those using the charity’s online benefits calculator, which helps people get to grips with what they could potentially claim: 

With people losing their jobs, being paid substantially less or struggling to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic, we saw more people using our resources than ever before. Those who hadn’t traditionally used our benefits calculator or grant search tool now needed to know what help was out there and whether they could claim. This increase in traffic happened very soon after the furlough scheme was introduced, and we found that many of those people had no idea where to start when it came to applying for the benefits they needed.

Access to Universal Credit (monthly payments to help with living costs) was also put under even more strain with the rise in claimants due to the pandemic. Universal Credit was first introduced in 2013, but it was still taking time to roll out fully. This meant that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not have the capacity to deal with new claims as more and more people tried to gain access. In addition, the process was also slowed by social distancing guidelines and the closure of public buildings. Even though applying for Universal Credit involves an online application, it requires that the identity of the claimant be verified in person - something that could not be done in the early stages of the pandemic.”

- David Samson

Bowing under the weight of increased financial insecurity, access to benefits was already proving to be difficult, if not impossible, for new claimants. However, even if access were easier, David believes there is a more significant, systemic reason for people struggling financially and not attempting to access the financial assistance they need.   

Barriers to claiming benefits 

Benefits have historically carried a stigma, with potential claimants being too embarrassed or ashamed to seek the help they need during a difficult time:

There is undoubtedly a stigma surrounding benefits which existed long before Universal Credit. For example, we’ve seen it with pension credits where those entitled to the benefit would likely be better off if they claimed. But they don’t claim because they fear the financially vulnerable label. We see the same with every type of benefit, and even with the pandemic affecting so many, we don’t see that stigma changing any time soon.”

- David Samson

And even if they can overcome that stigma, the complex nature of the benefits system can discourage people from even trying in the first place: 

The benefits system is very complicated. Some claimants are on the old legacy system and would lose out if they move to Universal Credit. Some would be better off. This can prove a real barrier to claiming, which essentially paralyses people into inaction because the choice is so overwhelming.”

- David Samson

How Turn2us can help 

Turn2us is a national charity that aims to tackle financial insecurity and help people access the financial assistance they need. 

The charity’s online benefits calculator is a free and anonymous tool that asks intuitive questions about an individual’s current situation to give them an idea of what they could be entitled to. 

Their website also includes a grant search tool where users can find out if they can apply to a charity for financial help. These valuable tools are complemented by a range of informative and straightforward resources that aim to improve people's understanding of the benefits system and how it relates to them.

  • Visit the Turn2us website to find out more.

  • Thanks to David Samson for his contributions to this article. David is the Welfare Benefit Projects Manager at Turn2us.

  • Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

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