120% increase in Universal Credit claimants

Citizens Advice in Suffolk is providing advice over the phone during the coronavirus lockdown. This

Citizens Advice in Suffolk is providing advice over the phone during the coronavirus lockdown. This picture was taken ahead of the government's shutdown measures. Picture: CITIZENS ADVICE MID SUFFOLK - Credit: CITIZENS ADVICE MID SUFFOLK

The number of claimants for Universal Credit in Babergh and Mid Suffolk has increased by 120% amid the fallout from coronavirus - with a tsunami of extra demand expected.

Citizens Advice figures presented to Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils' joint scrutiny committee on Monday revealed that Universal Credit claimants had gone up by 119% in Babergh and 122% in Mid Suffolk compared to December 2019.

In April last year, the government announced a temporary increase in benefits by £20 per week, which is currently proposed to end at the start of April this year,

But Citizens Advice has warned that removing that additional support could create an influx of families in need.

Colleen Sweeney, chief officer at Sudbury Citizens Advice told Monday's committee: "Nationally the charity is lobbying for the uplift to be made permanent. 

"We would be very concerned about what happens in April if the rate of Universal Credit is reduced.

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"We have a high number of people on Universal Credit in the districts now, and if they suddenly see that go down by around £100 a month then we believe we would see more families in crisis across our districts."

She said that, for many families, the £20 amounted to vital food supplies for the week.

Citizens Advice Ipswich chief Nicky willshere has shared advice on shopping safely Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Nicky Willshere from Ipswich Citizens Advice feared an increase in demand for services when government support measures end - Credit: Lucy Taylor

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The Ipswich, Mid Suffolk and Sudbury Citizens Advice branches said they had seen a threefold increase in demand for their services around Universal Credit over the last two years.

Many of those have been aged in their 20s or 30s, they said.

Concerns have also been raised over the consequences government measures such as the Universal Credit uplift and furlough ceasing will have on families.

Nicky Willshere, chief officer from the Ipswich CAB, said: "It feels at the moment there is pressure on families and it's building up for a number of reasons."

She cited a "tsunami of debt", breakdown of relationships for families, housing availability, education issues, council tax arrears and bailiff proceedings among those likely to escalate once government support ends.

She added: "We thoroughly appreciate some of the things that have been put in place, but there is also a concern."

Citizens Advice services remain available for people, with phone, email and video chat facilities available. Visit the website here to find your nearest.

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