Almost one million people applied for Universal Credit in the last two weeks of March as the coronavirus outbreak worsened and many were left unable to work as a result, but what benefits are available for those affected by Covid-19?
Here is everything you need to know on the help available if you're not working during the lockdown and how to apply:
What help is available?
Universal Credit is available for people who are out of work or on a low household income (this can be worked out using this benefits calculator), aged over-18 and under pension age, and have less than £16,000 in household savings.
You are also eligible if you have Covid-19 or are self-isolating at home and are out of work.
Self-employed people are also eligible for UC, providing they meet the usual eligibility criteria.
Individuals who are waiting for help from the Government's Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) – which provides a grant to self-employed individuals from June – may still be eligible to apply for UC.
However self-employed people may need to pay back UC benefits, once they receive the taxable grant from the scheme.
The Government has been unclear on the details around this, and needs to clarify how Universal Credit interacts with the self-employment scheme.
But the current advice is that if you need money before June you should apply for UC.
If you are self-employed and receiving UC and you have Covid-19 or are advised to self-isolate, the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor – an assumed level of income - will not be applied for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.
New claimants will not need to attend the Jobcentre to demonstrate gainful self-employment, people will be helped online or over the phone.
New-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
You may be able to receive a new-style ESA if you are self employed, or an employee who is following government advice on self-isolation and unable to work.
The new-style ESA is based on your national insurance contribution record - this means you will need to have been working for most of the period between April 2017 and April 2019.
It can be claimed on its own or at the same time as UC and is effectively a top-up of your income.
There are no rules on the savings you have, so people who can’t claim UC because they have over £16,000 in household savings can apply.
If you are eligible, the ESA will be payable from day one of sickness, rather than day eight, if you have Covid-19 or are advised to self-isolate.
People who need to claim ESA because of coronavirus will not have to produce a "fit note", they can get an "isolation note" by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
If you are an employee who needs to self-isolate because you have Covid-19, and you are not working, you should get SSP from your employer.
You can only get this if you usually earn more than £118 per week.
SSP is available to people who are caring for people with coronavirus and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine.
If you are a gig worker and/or on a zero hours contract you can still get SSP, if you meet the conditions.
SSP will be paid from day one of your self-isolation, rather than from the fourth day.
If you need to provide evidence to your employer that you need to stay at home due to having symptoms of coronavirus an "Isolation Note" can be obtained from NHS 111 online.
If you live with someone that has symptoms, an "Isolation Note" can be obtained from the NHS website.
Are people who have been furloughed also eligible to apply for UC?
Yes, but whether you are eligible still depends on how much income you have.
Somebody who has been furloughed may be eligible for UC, if the 20% reduction in their salary results in the household income being low enough that you are now eligible.
But there will be many instances where this drop in earnings, although significant, still means you are earning too much to be eligible.
Can you claim UC even if you have a job but have Covid-19 or are self-isolating?
Not to begin with as you should get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) first.
If you are an employee who needs to self-isolate, and you are not working, you should get SSP from your employer.
You can only get this if you usually earn more than £118 per week (otherwise you would get UC).
You will get this from day-one of your self-isolation.
Once your SSP runs out you can claim UC and you may also be able to claim the new-style ESA.
What happens if I usually attend face-to-face benefit assessments?
If you claim claim ESA or UC because you have an illness or disability that affects your ability to work, you normally have to attend a face-to-face assessment.
Claimants on sickness and disability benefits will not be required to attend face-to-face assessments for three months from March 16, 2020.
How much will I receive?
From April 6, the UK government is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit by £20 per week on top of a planned annual increase – this will apply to all new and existing UC claimants.
This means that for a single Universal Credit claimant (aged 25 or over), the standard allowance will increase from £317.82 to £409.89 per month.
New-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
As this benefit is based on an individual’s National Insurance (NI) contributions, it will be different for each claimant.
Statutory Sick Pay
You can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work – it’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks.
How to apply
Don’t delay making a benefit claim, even if you think you may be affected by coronavirus.
You can apply for the benefits online here:
If you are eligible for Universal Credit you will need to make an appointment for your new claim interview.
This interview will take place by telephone with a work coach.
You will be given the number to call to book this appointment when you have submitted your claim.
The booking line is exceptionally busy, and your local Jobcentre will call you if they’ve seen you’ve applied online but haven’t been able to get through to get an appointment yet.