AS numbers of people relying on benefits have soared and a ‘vital’ uplift to Universal Credit has now been cut, a Barnsley charity revealed it’s helped clients claim millions in support.

Wellington Street-based Citizens Advice Barnsley said enquiries on Universal Credit have increased year-on-year and between last April and this March 3,328 cases involving Universal Credit were handled a rise on the previous year’s 2,740, when the number of cases more than doubled.

In its annual report, the charity said £6.245m was successfully claimed by clients in Universal Credit and other benefits.

People were also helped to manage £6.215m in problem debt.

Across the year, 3,783 people were helped with 16,885 issues also involving employment and tax credits.

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Advisors have said the majority of benefit-related issues are enquiries on making an initial claim.

Chief executive Jo Clark said: “Without question, 2020/21 has been a challenging year for everyone. Despite the difficulties of providing a service through the Covid-19 pandemic, we have remained constant in our ability and commitment to safely advise clients and maintain our partnership work within the community.

“We have provided people with the knowledge and confidence they need to find their way forward - whoever they are, and whatever their problem. We have structured our services to ensure that the most vulnerable people receive an increased level of support appropriate to their needs.”

The charity moved to working remotely upon the start of the pandemic, using phone, email and video chat - with more than twice as many phone calls and almost five times as many emails as the previous year.

Staff earlier this year told the Chronicle that 188 cases of homelessness had been averted due to their support.

Figures provided by the Department for Work and Pensions show the number of claimants of Universal Credit, introduced in Barnsley in July 2017, increased from 4,000 in March to 26,000 by the end of the year.

The borough’s MPs have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the decision to end the Universal Credit ‘uplift’ scheme worth £20 a week or £1,040 a year to claimants that was introduced last year and helped the borough’s 26,000-plus claimants.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey carried out research that showed more than one in three Universal Credit claimants in Barnsley are working while they receive the benefit.

Barnsley is judged to have been making positive progress since its dramatic rise in claimants, which saw 72 per cent more people claiming unemployment benefits in February than 12 months prior from 15,751 to 27,095.

The number of people working while claiming more than doubled in that time from 4,361 to 9,302 eclipsing the number searching for work while claiming, which has increased at a slightly slower rate, from 4,429 to 8,680.

From March to April last year, numbers of claimants ballooned from 16,224 to 22,328, alongside a rise in businesses taking advantage of the furlough scheme.

The latest figures, which cover May this year, show there were 17,214 people on Universal Credit while unemployed and 9,468 who were working while claiming a slight drop and increase, respectively, on the previous month’s figures.