- Video report by ITV News Correspondent Stacey Foster
Almost 950,000 people have applied for Universal Credit in the past two weeks following the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had seen a huge uptake in benefits claims since March 16, up from around 100,000 in a normal two-week period.
Around a quarter, 70,000 out of around 270,000 Universal Credit applicants in one week, applied for an advance payment.
Universal Credit claimants wait five weeks for a first payment after applying for the benefit, but can take out an advance loan to help cover costs during the waiting period.
The Salvation Army has warned that advance payments must be given as grants, not loans, to prevent a "coronavirus debt crisis".
They added this could put thousands of Britons into debt, adding it is a "point of critical failure that the Government must address”.
Rebecca Keating, the Salvation Army’s director of employment plus, said: “Thousands of people who never thought they would have to rely on state support are now making a Universal Credit claim."
She added: “Many will not have a financial safety net to help avoid getting into debt straight away.”
The Work and Pensions committee wrote to the DWP on March 25 asking how many of those who applied for a payment since March 16 had received it, and the average length of time they waited.
It has not yet received a response.
Work and pensions committee chairman, Stephen Timms, said: “The Secretary of State should look very carefully at this proposal from the Salvation Army, which is based on their experience of helping some of the most vulnerable people in society in the midst of a global pandemic.
“In the current crisis, it’s simply not sustainable for the DWP to force people to choose between suffering hardship now or struggling to repay debts for months to come."
The DWP said advances allow people to access money within the first few days of their claim and that safeguards are in place to ensure repayments are affordable.
A spokesman said: “Universal Credit is delivering in these unprecedented times.
“With such a huge increase in claims there are pressures on our services, but the system is standing up well to these and our dedicated staff are working flat out to get people the support they need.
“We’re taking urgent action to boost capacity – we’ve moved 10,000 existing staff to help on the frontline and we’re recruiting more.”
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