As the number of people on Universal Credit nearly doubles, Citizens Advice warns cut could spell ‘financial turmoil’

  • The number of people on Universal Credit has nearly doubled since March. DWP figures due for release tomorrow could see this milestone breached

  • Citizens Advice has supported three people every minute with advice on Universal Credit since the start of the pandemic

  • The charity warns a cut to Universal Credit would hurt working families. Around 40% of the people Citizens Advice has helped with Universal Credit issues were in work or self-employed

Alistair Cromwell, Acting Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: 

“In just a few weeks, millions of people face the prospect of a £20-a-week cut to their benefits. This loss could spell financial turmoil, with increased debt and hardship for many families who are already struggling.

"The Chancellor has a crucial opportunity to intervene at the upcoming budget. With unemployment set to rise further, we urge the government to maintain this lifeline for at least a year.”

Maggie Bonser, an adviser at Citizens Advice Rotherham, said: 

“We’re having to let people know that their benefits might drop by £20-a-week in April. For someone already struggling, that’s catastrophic. They simply have no wiggle room in their budget.

“Many want to work but are coming up against a brick wall because there are no jobs. Others are working but are on reduced or variable hours. A cut to their benefits would mean missed bills, rent arrears and tough choices between putting the heating on and eating.”

Elaine’s story: ‘It’s devastating to see everything just go up in smoke’

Elaine, from Stockport, was furloughed from her job as a legal secretary last March and made redundant in October.  She applied for Universal Credit and has been looking for jobs since, but has found it an uphill struggle. Things have been more difficult since the New Year as she is also homeschooling her daughter. This means spending more on heating and a bigger food bill. Elaine says: 

“I didn't choose this new lifestyle. After working for 30 years it’s devastating to see everything just go up in smoke.

“We’re just about managing, but I have no contingency plan. If we lose that extra £20-a-week in April I just don't know how I would cope. That would be the food shop gone. The stress of scraping by week to week is really getting to me and it’s been made worse by this extra uncertainty.”

Notes to editors

  1. The DWP is due to publish statistics tomorrow on the latest number of Universal Credit claims. Data that runs to December shows there were 5.9 million people on Universal Credit. The number of people on Universal Credit had increased 96% since March 2020 based on these figures.

  2. Citizens Advice provided 372,896 people with one-to-one advice via phone, web chat and face-to-face between 1 March 2020 and 18 February 2021

  3. Of people helped by Citizens Advice with Universal Credit who had an occupation recorded, around 40% were in work or self-employed. Occupation is not a mandatory field for our advisers and is only collected in certain circumstances.

  4. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  5. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.

  6. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.

  7. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.

  8. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  9. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit

  10. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 to talk in Welsh.

  11. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  12. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.