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Universal Credit (UC) is replacing the 6 main means-tested benefits. We refer to these benefits as the ‘legacy benefits’. Universal Credit will run alongside these until at least 2019. 

Universal Credit replaces these ‘legacy benefits’:

Contributory benefits and most non-contributory benefits will exist alongside Universal Credit and are not affected by it. Contributory ESA and Contributions-based JSA can be topped up with ‘legacy’ income-related ESA or JSA.

Universal Credit live and full-service areas might offer you new style ESA or new style JSA. These are the original contributory benefits but with a top-up of Universal Credit if you are eligible.

Pension Credit will remain with a new element for those with dependent children, to reflect any loss of Child Tax Credit. There is also a housing credit for rent and mortgage costs. The Government has not confirmed these changes. This may not happen before April 2018. 

Working families on Universal Credit can get help with up to 85% of their childcare costs. There is a monthly limit for one child of £646 and £1,108 for two or more children. Families who claim Universal Credit are likely to get free school meals for their children and other benefits like prescriptions and dental fees. Universal Credit does not automatically entitle to you these benefits. It’s important to check before you claim free school meals or free health costs.

All UK jobcentres accept new Universal Credit claims from single, unemployed, British people with no children. These are known as gateway or live jobcentres.

Around 50 jobcentres per month are moving to the ‘digital’ or ‘full service’ status for Universal Credit. This means that all new means-tested benefit claims in the full-service areas will be Universal Credit claims. The Government aims to complete full roll-out of Universal Credit by December 2018. These dates may change.
You can check if you’re in a live or full-service Universal Credit area on entitledto or Universalcreditinfo. Both sites will tell you what type of Universal Credit is available in your area and when it will be available as the full-service. You can also check the Universal Credit transition roll-out schedule on the government website.

Things that will change with Universal Credit 

  • Payments are monthly and paid in arrears. Alternative Payment Arrangements (APA) might be available.
  • Your Universal Credit award includes housing costs. You will be responsible for paying your rent to your landlord.
  • No premiums in Universal Credit. You will not be entitled to a higher rate of Universal Credit because you get PIP, DLA or AA. You will get extra money if you have a limited capability for work (if you claimed before 3 April 2017) or limited capability for work-related activities, or you’re a carer.
  • There is no permitted work in Universal Credit as there is in ESA. Unless you’re receiving the Limited Capability for Work-Related Activities element, you will be encouraged to do some work and will be allowed to keep more of your earnings before Universal Credit is tapered off. These are known as Work Allowances. Work allowances are higher if you don’t have any housing costs paid.

Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits have no capital limits, so any savings or capital you have don’t count. Eligibility is based on income you receive. Universal Credit is fully means-tested. You won’t qualify for any help with Universal Credit if you have savings of £16,000 or more.

Under ESA, disabled students in receipt of DLA or PIP who apply for income-related ESA will automatically have a limited capability for work. Under Universal Credit there is no automatic limited capability for work for disabled students.

When will Universal Credit affect me?

If you’re receiving any of the legacy benefits and you live in a full-service Universal Credit area, Universal Credit won’t affect you until at least 2019, unless you have a ‘change in circumstances’. The DWP hopes to begin moving legacy benefit claimants onto Universal Credit as part of the ‘managed migration’ in July 2019.

Under managed migration, those who move over to Universal Credit will receive transitional protection. This comes in the form of top-up payments so that you’re not worse off under Universal Credit. There are certain changes in circumstances which lead to a new legacy benefit claim.

In a full-service area, the legacy benefits will not be available and so a new claim for benefits will be a Universal Credit claim. You will become part of the ‘natural migration’. For natural migrants there is no transitional protection, so any losses in income will be immediate. Some people will be better off under Universal Credit than the legacy benefits.

What are the changes in circumstances?

  • Changes in employment status
  • Changes in family circumstances
  • Becoming a carer or stop being a carer if income support is involved
  • Moving area or taking up a new tenancy
  • Other

Read this document on what can trigger a new claim for Universal Credit in a full-service area.  If you need further information, please contact our helpline.

Who can claim Universal Credit?

To qualify, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old (or aged 16-17 in certain cases)
  • Have not reached the qualifying age for pension credit. If you’re over the pension credit qualifying age, you can claim if you have a partner who is under the pension credit qualifying age.
  • Live in Great Britain
  • Not be subject to immigration control
  • Not be in education, with some exceptions, such as you’re responsible for a child or you’re disabled and entitled to DLA or PIP and have limited capability for work
  • Have accepted a ‘claimant commitment’
  • Meet the financial conditions

For joint claims, both people are claimants, and must both meet the criteria

Financial conditions of Universal Credit

You will only receive Universal Credit if your income and capital are low enough. If you have capital between £6,000 and £16,000, your Universal Credit will reduce by £4.35 per calendar month for every £250 you have above £6,000. If you have capital of £16,000 or more, you will not get Universal Credit.

Claimant commitment

At an early stage in your Universal Credit claim, your work coach will ask you to attend a meeting. This is to discuss what you and your partner must do to qualify and continue qualifying for Universal Credit.

These requirements are based on your caring responsibilities, and on your own work capability (considering disability and illness). If you’re the lead carer of your children, your claimant commitment will be based on the age of your youngest child.

The four groups are:

  • No work requirements (for example if you are caring for a disabled person for 35 hours per week, or you are the lead carer of a child under 1). This is like ESA support group.
  • Work interview requirements only for example, if you are responsible for a child who is age between 1 and 16 (18 if they have extra care needs)
  • Work preparation requirement -  for people with limited capability for work. In this group, you must get ready for work, additional work, or better paid work. You may have to attend training courses, prepare a CV or take part in the Work Programme. This is like ESA work-related activity group.
  • Work search requirement – in this group, you must look for work and apply for jobs 35 hours per week, unless disability, illness or caring responsibilities mean that your hours of work search should be less than this. This is like Jobseeker's Allowance.
Even if you are in full-time work, the DWP work coach may think that you could earn more, so may ask you to act to do so. They will compare your earnings with your personal earnings threshold – often the National Minimum Wage X 35 hours – or a reduced number of hours if you have caring responsibilities and/ or disability issues.

How is Universal Credit calculated?

The DWP calculates the maximum amount of Universal Credit by adding together a standard list of allowances and elements. These are the basic amounts which the law says you need to live on. These are:

  • Standard allowance for you and, if applicable, your partner
  • Child element (including an extra amount if the child is disabled)
  • Childcare costs
  • Work Capability element
  • Carer element
  • Housing costs amount

You add these together to get your maximum amount. You then deduct the following:

  • If you’re entitled to a work allowance, deduct this from your earnings.
  • 63p of each £1 of your earnings in the past month during your assessment period
  • Deduct other income during the assessment period (rules are similar to legacy benefits),
  • As your earnings rise, your Universal Credit reduces at a constant rate. So, for each £10 earned, you keep £3.70 and £6.30 will be taken off your Universal Credit.

Payment of Universal Credit

Payments are monthly and in arrears. This will be a week after the end of each assessment period. From February 2018, you will be assessed from the day you claim. You will get your first payment roughly 5 weeks after you claim (monthly assessment period + 1-week processing time).

Until now, if you’ve claimed Universal Credit, you have been able to request an advanced payment. This is repayable through deductions from further Universal Credit payments. This was limited to up to 50% of the Universal Credit entitlement. From January 2018, you can request an Advanced Payment of 100% of your Universal Credit allowance within 5 days of your claim.

The repayment period will increase from 6 to 12 months. If you make a claim in December 2017, you can get a 50% advanced payment, and then in January 2018 you can ask for a top up to 100%.

From Spring 2018, it will be possible for people to apply for advanced payments online.

From April 2018, if you’re already on Housing Benefit, you will continue to receive your award for the first 2 weeks of your Universal Credit claim.

There are proposals to make it easier for you to continue having your housing costs paid directly to landlords once you’re on Universal Credit.

Remember, you will receive all your eligible rent costs in your Universal Credit award. You must pay this money to your landlord to avoid rent arrears. If you don’t think you will be able to manage this, you can ask for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA).

If you have a mortgage, you might get help with some of your interest payments. From April 2018, this help is a loan and not a benefit. If you’re receiving Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI), DWP will contact you by February 2018 to discuss your options.

How to claim Universal Credit

  • You claim online and you will have an online Universal Credit account (unless you live in a live-service area).
  • After making a claim, you’ll have to attend a face-to-face interview.
  • You can get help making your claim online at local Jobcentre Plus offices, councils or by calling the helpline on 0800 328 5644 for full service areas and 0800 328 9344 for live service areas. .
  • If you are unable to claim Universal Credit online, you must contact the Universal Credit helpline. You can claim over the phone if you have good reasons for not being able to claim online.

Sanctions

If you don’t meet your claimant commitment, you could face a range of penalties from 40%-100% of your standard allowance. In rare cases these can last for up to 3 years. Sanctions should not affect your housing costs.

Important: If you are claiming benefits, and your circumstances are due to change, find out how this could affect your benefits. Phone us free on 0808 800 3333, or talk to a local disabled people’s advice service.

If you need help or something goes wrong with your UC claim

Consent and representatives

You can ask another person or organisation to deal with your claim if:
  • you feel unable to find the information you need
  • understand things about your claim.
You can do this at any point during your claim. You must give your permission to:
  • allow another person or organisation to act for you
  • have access to relevant information about you
This permission is explicit consent.

Appointees

Another person or organisation can apply for the right to deal with the Universal Credit claim of someone who can’t manage their own affairs. This may be, for example, they may be mentally incapable or severely disabled. Unlike a representative, this is a legal appointment. An appointee can be:
  • individual appointees, such as a friend or relative
  • corporate appointees, such as a solicitor or local council
You may prefer to have corporate appointees, as any staff member from that organisation can act on your behalf.

Power of Attorney

A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a legal document. It lets someone appoint one or more people (known as ‘attorneys’) to help make decisions. This gives control to the attorney if someone can’t make decisions because of illness or they 'lack mental capacity’. You must be 18 or over and have mental capacity (the ability to make your own decisions) when you make your LPA. Find more information about explicit consent and representatives on the government website.

Universal Credit: useful websites and links

www.turn2us.org.uk Find out whether you would be better or worse off on Universal Credit than on your current benefits.
www.revenuebenefits.org.uk Where you can read the legislation for Universal Credit and link to the DWP Advice Guides.

Online benefits calculator

Calculate your entitlements online.