THE number of people claiming Universal Credit in Halton rocketed by almost 50% during the pandemic year, with local businesses also having to access nearly £40 million in urgent support.

Figures revealed in a report to Halton Borough Council’s Corporate Policy Performance Board show there was a huge increase in UC claims, from 10,918 in March last year, to 16,277 in June this year, as devastation was wrought on jobs and finances across the borough by the impact of COVID-19.

The grim picture was reflected nationally, with over 10 times the usual number of claims made to Universal Credit at the beginning of the first national lockdown. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, more than 550,000 claims for Universal Credit were made in each week ending March 26 and April 2 last year. By contrast, for the 52 weeks before the lockdown, there was an average of 54,000 claims per week.

The Halton Council report also outlined the extent of the impact on local companies, with many having to access business support grants and rate relief.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the council had administered over £25 million in in business support grant payments and awarded over £14 million in business rate relief.

The report said the impact of the pandemic had had a ‘significant impact’ on its services over the last year and said its full impact was still yet to be felt.

It said: “The emergence of the global COVID19 pandemic early in 2020 has had a significant and unavoidable impact upon council services, the full extent of which is yet to become known.

“The council, along with key partner agencies, has prioritised its resources upon mitigating the serious risks to public health, the protection of vulnerable residents, and the social cohesion of the local community.

“In developing appropriate responses to emerging national and local priorities, this situation is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.”