Universal Credit gives biggest ever pay day after receiving 1.8 million claims since Covid-19 crisis began

More than £200 million will be paid out this week to people who've lost their jobs because of the coronavirus lockdown, the Work and Pensions Secretary has told ITV News.

It follows an unprecedented 1.8 million claims for Universal Credit since the crisis began.

"Today is our biggest ever payment day", Therese Coffey said.

"We're processing as a consequence well over 100,000 claims in terms of payments today, I think that’s £70 million".

She said the huge number of payments are due because people turned to the government "very quickly" for help when the crisis began.

"Over this entire week we’re paying out £200 million to people who need help from the welfare system," she added.

Job Centre staff in Stevenage have been speaking about how they dealt with the huge surge in claims from early March.

One worker, Chris Wall, said the initial surge in Universal Credit claims was "massive".

"I was like 'wow', it was quite shocking how many claims came in," he said.

"Obviously it's crazy times for the country in general - it was crazy here for a bit but we've really managed it."

He explained how staff had been brought in from other teams to bolster staff working from home, to ensure all claims could be processed.

The biggest increase was from people who'd previously been self-employed.

Another employee, Lesley Pearcey, said she's received claims from delivery drivers, taxis, gardeners, plasterers, roofers - people she said do not usually apply because they have established businesses.

Nationally, there are usually about 57,000 claims a week.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the claims soared to 540,000 a week, although they went down after the furlough scheme was introduced.

Some 700,000 people have been given advance payments as Universal Credit to tide them over during the five week wait before the main benefit is paid out.