The Universal Credit Team at believe housing has been working flat out to help customers faced with new, or increased, challenges during the coronavirus pandemic … but Universal Credit Officer, Trevor Davies, managed to spare a few moments to shed some light on the support that has been offered.
“My job is to support our customers through the Universal Credit process, helping them to claim and ensuring their payments are correct. I usually work in local Jobcentre Plus offices and visit customers’ properties. April is always our busiest time of the year. April 2020 got a lot busier after the announcement of lockdown in March.
“Since the announcement of lockdown, lots of things changed for a lot of people. Government restrictions meant people were only allowed to leave their homes for essential purposes. This has made our job more difficult as we cannot support our customers face-to-face. It makes the process more complicated for our customers who are struggling and need extra support.
“For millions of people around the country, this has been a period of uncertainty and job losses. Many claimed Universal Credit as soon as lockdown was announced, many others were unsure what to do and needed advice, support or clarity from the government. A lot of the customers we have worked with had little or no experience of claiming benefits.
“Official figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that there were 1.5 million claims made between 13 March and 9 April, this is six times more than in the same period last year.”
“There were a colossal number of claims made to Universal Credit during lockdown and many claims were affected by government announcements. As a team it has been a monumental task (and one we’re still working on) to contact our customers and ensure that they are getting paid the correct amount of Universal Credit as well as identifying any other support needs. In the early stages of lockdown, we were inundated with calls from customers wanting ‘UC’ advice, asking if they should claim, would they be better off claiming and how to claim.
“Each call required a full Universal Credit calculation. We dealt with every single call in-house; giving customers access to the information they needed and might not have been able to access elsewhere. The number of calls we’ve received has increased by 40%, with more than 560 new claims during the first eight weeks of the lockdown.
“We are all working differently and learning day to day how we can change, adapt and innovate to provide the best service for our customers
“Although we have contacted most of our customers who have new Universal Credit claims, there’s still lots of work to do. We will contact our tenants on the day they receive their first Universal Credit payment to make sure they have received the correct amount. Their first payments will be due five weeks after their claim date, so the next two weeks are going to be just as demanding as previous weeks.
“Organisations we work with have also changed their ways of working and this has helped us greatly. Durham County Council has changed the Discretionary Housing Payment process. The applications can now be done online with an email signature. It is a much more streamlined process and one that has benefited our tenants greatly.
“The way we communicate and converse is also different. We are now communicating using video call. We are very lucky to be in the position we are, working safely from home. And being able to help others while doing so is a bonus.”
Expert Universal Credit advice from Trevor and his colleagues is still available for all believe housing customers. Call 0300 1311 999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.