Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having a devastating impact not only in the UK but around the world, affecting people’s health and having a financial impact on vast numbers of people too. In a bid to help those concerned about money during this difficult time, Martin Lewis was on hand to answer coronavirus-themed queries during The Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio Five Live yesterday.
During the segment, a caller – Steven – explained they had been trying to claim Universal Credit towards the end of last week.
In a bid to cope with increased demand during the UK lockdown, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced emergency measures for applying for the benefit – such as urging claimants to use online services before turning to the telephone for help.
Additionally, the Work and Pensions Secretary has taken the decision to limit access to jobcentres, meaning members of the public will currently not be admitted into jobcentres unless they are directed to do so with a booked appointment.
However, yesterday, Steven explained his concerns about those who need to undergo the verification process over the phone, should they not be able to get the online verification.
He explained: “I just wanted to highlight the plight that maybe hundreds of thousands of people are going through at the moment, in that, if you’re applying for Universal Credit, and you can’t get the online verification – which is what happened to us – we phoned up on Friday way before three o’clock.
“We waited all the way through, the same message playing over and over and over. And, at five o’clock we just got cut off. You just cannot get through. You cannot possibly get through on that telephone line.
“I wonder what Martin’s thoughts about that were, and if there are any any alternatives for people who are desparate?”
Upon hearing Steven’s query, Mr Lewis explained that he understood that the DWP was currently dealing with an unprecedented demand, and thus was not looking to “involve criticism”.
He replied: “So, my answer is, what I’m hearing is obviously they’re dealing with enormous unprecedented demand. So, I’m being very careful in everything I say here not to involve criticism, because I just don’t think anyone deserves criticism right now.
“I know how hard the people in those call centres are working, and the people trying to sort it through. But the system clearly isn’t working. They are supposed to call you back,” he added, before asking for step-by-step detail about Steven’s experience.
Steven explained: “Well there’s an online verifiaction system which is supposed to kick in but if that doesn’t work then you have to phone up and you have to make a phone appointment.
“But, you just cannot get through – you can be on the phone for hours and hours and you just cannot speak to a human being.
“You just get put into a voice loop that goes over and over again. It doesn’t even tell you where you are in the queue.
“So, eventually, as I say on Friday at five o’clock, it just says the offices are shut and you get cut off. It’s just impossible to get through Martin.”
Mr Lewis then explained he’d look into the matter, and would tweet any information he could glean about what people should do in that circumstance.
Later, he did just that, and explained that DWP figures show that web applications have reached as high as 105,678 per day.
He also revealed that the DWP was checking “who’s missing”, and would consequently contact the claimant.
Later, Mr Lewis wrote on Twitter: “Universal credit update: I’ve just got figures; web apps up 832 percent last week – as high as 105,678/day (typically 9,751). They’re swamped.
“If ur told to ring for an appointment but can’t get thru. Try & be patient (I know its hard) theyre checking who’s missing and WILL CALL U.”(sic)
Express.co.uk has contacted the DWP asking for more information.