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20 April, 2021 Open access

Around half a million people entitled to universal credit at start of pandemic did not claim it

It's essential to make non-take-up visible, and to produce a clear strategy to try to tackle it, says new report

Around half a million people entitled to universal credit at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic did not claim it, according to a new report from Welfare at a (Social) Distance.

In Non-take-up of benefits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Welfare at a (Social) Distance - a national research project investigating the benefits system during the Covid-19 pandemic - highlights that, while much attention has been focused on how well the universal credit system has responded during the crisis, little attention has been given to those who were eligible for universal credit but did not claim it.

Estimating that around half a million people (430,000 - 560,000) were in this position at the start of the pandemic, the report divides them into two groups - 

While the report notes that estimating survey respondents' eligibility for universal credit is complex and there are a number of caveats to its figures, it highlights that, despite using a range of strategies to make ends meet - relying on savings or friends and family, borrowing from banks, and using emergency help such as food banks - people reported that it was often not enough - 

In addition, the report estimates, with acknowledged greater uncertainty, that around 80,000 people were probably eligible for new style jobseeker's allowance (JSA) but did not claim it. Amongst people who had lost a job, the overwhelming majority said that it had never occurred to them to claim. Even amongst those who had applied for universal credit and been rejected due to earnings or savings, the overwhelming majority said that they had not considered applying for new style JSA or employment and support allowance.

Highlighting that non-take-up is an invisible problem and that the DWP no longer estimates how many people are affected, the report calls on the Department to publish its own benefits take-up strategy for the UK, including - 

Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, lead author of the report and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent, said -

'There is something wrong with a system if large numbers of people do not claim benefits they are entitled to ... the DWP has an admirable track record internationally for transparently estimating non-take-up – but this is something they seem to have abandoned with the introduction of universal credit. Non-take-up is therefore becoming an invisible problem once more. We should strive to maximise people’s take-up of their entitlements, and to do this, it is essential to make non-take-up visible, and to produce a clear take-up strategy to try to tackle it.'

For more information, see Confusion and stigma: half a million people overlooked Universal Credit despite COVID-19 and Half a million people didn’t take-up Universal Credit at the start of COVID-19 – and why this matters.