Universal Credit is a new type of benefit for people looking for work or who have a low income.
What is it?
Universal Credit is a new type of benefit for people looking for work or who have low income. It is being introduced in stages and replaces the following benefits:
- Housing Benefit
- Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income Support
- Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Child and Working Tax Credits
Claims for Universal Credit have to be made online. To claim, click here. Claims can be made on a computer, laptop or mobile device.
- Access to the Internet through a computer, laptop, tablet or even a smartphone – if you do not have access and/or are not sure how to use the Internet (Note these options below may not be available currently due to covid-19):
- You can attend your local Job Centre to make a claim (click here to find out where you local office is)
- Most libraries allow some free Internet access (they may not be able to support you with the claim form)
- A valid email address – many email providers provide free accounts, we recommend you search online. If you have difficulty with this, get in touch with one of our Welfare Benefit Advisor who could help you while making the claim.
- Bank account or credit union account.
- If you do not have an account, click here for advice on choosing and opening one.
- If you are unable to open any sort of account where you can receive payment, then you may be able to use the PayPoint Payment Exception Service instead.
- Some people may be using Post Office Card Accounts, however, these are no longer accepting new applicants and will stop for current users by November 2021.
- Details for your claim, which could include (for you and your partner if you have one):
- Your national insurance number(s)
- Details of your housing, including your address, type of accommodation, how much it costs, and who your landlord is and how to contact them
- Details about your income, such as earnings, self-employment and other benefits you claim and any other income
- Details of your savings and investments
- Child Benefit reference numbers
- Childcare costs – how much and who your provider is
- Details of your ID – especially if you choose to verify your ID online as part of the claim
- Bank account details so they know how to pay you
- Once you complete your claim, you will be expected to make an appointment at your local Jobcentre. If you fail to make and attend the appointment your claim may be closed.
- You (and your partner) will be expected to agree to a claimant commitment, setting out what you agree to do in order to receive the benefit.
- This could range from searching for work full-time, to nothing, depending on your circumstances.
- It is important you are clear to the ‘work coach’ about your abilities and responsibilities so you are not set unrealistic expectations
- If you do not meet the expectations placed upon you, your Universal Credit could be reduced or stopped.
A Universal Credit award can include any of the following that apply to you:
- Help with housing costs which will be paid directly to you
- Basic money for you (and your partner if you have one)
- Money for children
- Extra money for children if they are disabled
- Extra money for your or your partner if you are unable to work
- Money to help with childcare costs
- Extra money if you are a carer of a disabled person
Universal Credit does NOT include help with council tax, which you still need to claim help for from your local council
Universal Credit is paid differently to other benefits, which will affect the way you manage your money.
- Universal Credit is paid monthly
- The first payment is not made until a month and a week after submitting a claim, i.e. it could be over five weeks before you get a payment
- After your first payment, your future payments will be paid on that date of the month every month
- If you feel unable to wait for your first payment, you can ask for an advance of Universal Credit by talking to your work coach or by calling 0800 328 5644. Note: this is a loan that you have to pay back within 24 months
- Help to pay for rent (the equivalent of Housing Benefit) is normally paid directly to you as part of your monthly Universal Credit payment, so it will be yourresponsibility to pay the whole rent from your benefit.
- The DWP does make an exception for those who have two months’ rent arrears or who meet vulnerability criteria listed here. If you think these apply to you, please contact us.
- It is also your responsibility to report any changes in your rent to Universal Credit (click here for more information on this)
At present no-one is being forced to claim Universal Credit instead of another benefit they are already getting, although the government do plan to do this in future. A trial has been taking place in the Harrogate area in Yorkshire but plans to expand this have not yet been announced.
However, if you have a change of circumstances that means you need to make a new claim for benefits due to a lack of income and savings, whether or not you claimed any benefits before, and you have not yet reached your state retirement age, then you are likely to need to claim Universal Credit instead. This is called the ‘natural migration’.
There are a few exceptions:
Housing Benefit: If you move address but are still able to claim Housing Benefit from the same Local Authority/Council, you only need to report a change of circumstances to that Local Authority/Council rather than make a new claim for benefit. If you move across a council border however you will normally need to claim Universal Credit for help with your new rent.
Pensioners: You cannot claim Universal Credit if you have reached your state retirement age. However, if you are part of a couple and your partner has not reached their state retirement age yet then you will still have to claim Universal Credit.
Tax Credits claimants: If you are entitled to either Child or Working Tax Credits and your situation changes such that you should qualify for the other, then you should report this as a change of circumstances to the Tax Credit office at HMRC instead of claiming Universal Credit. For example, if you claim Working Tax Credit and you give birth to or adopt a child, you can still get Child Tax Credits added on to your claim. If you start work and already get Child Tax Credits, you can get Working Tax Credits added on to your claim, including help with childcare costs. However, if your Tax Credits ends due to a relationship with a partner starting or ending, then you cannot make a new claim for Tax Credits and will have to consider claiming Universal Credit instead.
For further advice on any of this please contact our Customer Services Team on 0300 123 5544 and ask for our Benefits Advice team.
For advice about opening a bank account, click here.
For help to get online and learn how to use computers, contact Customer Services
For help to work out how to manage your money on Universal Credit, you could try the Money Advice Service’s Money Manager tool. You could also try their Budget Planner and take a look at their guide for paying rent on Universal Credit. See above the Money Advice Service’s useful video about preparing for Universal Credit:
You can contact Universal Credit via their Freephone number 0800 328 5644. If you have an active claim for Universal Credit you can also contact them via your online account journal.
We can help you with:
- Confirming whether you should be able to claim
- Making a claim online for Universal Credit and assisting with any future queries
- Checking your claim is paying the correct amount
- Checking whether you are entitled to any other benefits and helping you make a claim
- Setting up a direct debit to pay your rent
- Setting out a personal budget plan
- Managing your debts through our Money Advice service
Please contact our Benefits Advice teams for further advice and support
It is your responsibility to promptly report any changes of circumstances that might affect your claim to Universal Credit, preferably on the day it happens or as close to this as possible afterwards. You can do this by reporting it through your online account, or by calling the Universal Credit helpline.
The most common types of changes you will need to report is (list this is not exhaustive):
- Changes to your rent (click here for more information on this)
- Changes to your income (however if you are paid earnings via the PAYE system the DWP should receive these automatically)
- Changes to your household (for example someone leaving home or the birth of a baby)
- Changes to your contact details
- Changes to your ability to look for work (for example you become ill or start to have caring responsibilities)
If you are not sure if you need to report a change, contact us for advice from one of our Welfare Benefits Advisors.
Below is some of the common issues people experience with Universal Credit and what can be done about it. If you need help with any of this, please contact us.
When one of the tenants listed on the tenancy is now absent from the home, and the remaining tenant is claiming Universal Credit in their own name only or with a different partner, this can sometimes cause problems.
Universal Credit will automatically assume the absent tenant is paying half the rent, and only award the claimant benefit towards the other half of the rent. However, there is legislation which allows Universal Credit to treat the remaining tenant as entitled to help with the whole rent.
You can enter a journal note on your account, choosing the option to say it is ‘about a payment’, to tell Universal Credit the situation. Explain when the absent tenant left the property and whether they are making any payments towards the rent, explain also how you will not be able to afford the rent without the DWP agreeing it would be reasonable to find you liable for the whole rent.
If Universal Credit still refuse to cover the whole rent in your award, please contact us for further advice.
Mixed Age Couples
A mixed age couple is a couple where one has reached their retirement age, but the other has not. Such couples have to make new claims for Universal Credit rather than retirement age benefits until both members of the couple have reached their retirement age. Some couples in this situation may still be claiming pension age benefits which can stay in place unless something changes to cause those benefits to end.
If you are approaching becoming a mixed-age couple and currently claim benefits not including Universal Credit it is important to get advice. It may be prudent to claim Universal Credit before you reach your retirement age to ensure you retain the highest entitlement possible. Please contact us for advice.
Universal Credit is a benefit designed to include help for low paid workers.
Universal Credit works on a monthly assessment period, where any wages earned during that monthly period are counted for that month in deciding what Universal Credit is paid.
For people who have stable monthly earnings, this works well as the payments stay the same.
However, if you are paid weekly, fortnightly or four-weekly, or in any case your earnings vary, then your Universal Credit award can also be different every single month. This can make budgeting difficult.
You may need to carefully plan when you pay what bills with which payment to ensure you stay ahead. It may help to use an online budgeting tool, such as Citizen Advice’s budgeting tool. If you need one-to-one help with this please contact us and ask to speak to a money advisor.
Work Capability Assessments
The Work Capability Assessment is the process the DWP use to work out whether they think someone is capable of work, and whether they qualify for the extra ‘Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity’ element on their claim. The same process also applies to Employment and Support Allowance claims.
To start the process, you need to provide fit notes from your doctor for at least one month; this is a document that states you are unable to work due to a medical condition.
You should continue to provide fit notes until a final decision is made on this process. While this is going on your work coach may continue to expect you to look for work, but they should be willing to change this based on your fit notes.
After providing fit notes for one month you should receive a booklet to fill in called a ‘Limited Capability for Work questionnaire’. If you do not receive this within two months of first providing a fit note, then something may have gone wrong. You should contact Universal Credit to chase this.
Once you have sent back your questionnaire you may be asked to attend an assessment or have one over the phone. After this, Universal Credit will decide whether they think you can work and whether you qualify for the extra element. It is common for people to disagree with this decision. If you disagree with the decision you have the right to request a mandatory reconsideration – you should explain why you disagree and provide any supporting evidence. If they still refuse to change the decision, you can apply to the HM Courts & Tribunals for an independent appeal to be heard.
Our dedicated Welfare Benefits Advisors can support you with any step of this process. If you need help, please contact us and our customer contact advisors will arrange for a Welfare Benefits Advisor to contact you to discuss. We can help write to Universal Credit or the HM Courts & Tribunals Service and can even represent you at appeal hearings.
Things to know:
- UC is replacing 6 other common benefits
- A claim for UC will stop any payments for the benefits it replaces
- You will have to wait around 5/6 weeks for your first payment
- UC is paid in one lump sum per month
- Help with rent is included as part of UC – so you are responsible for paying your rent yourself
- You need access to the Internet and a valid email address to make and manage your claim
- You need a bank account to receive payment
A credit union account can help you manage your household budget if you think you will struggle to manage monthly payments, including your rent.
We have links with Bedford Credit Union and Harvest Money. For more information see our Credit Union page.