Universal Credit and Welfare Reform

Be prepared for Universal Credit

All claimants will move to Universal Credit over the next 3 years, starting in the CHISEL areas between December 2015 and April 2016, for new claims by single person households (whether in shared accommodation or in self-contained).

It is not yet clear when new claims by families will move to Universal Credit.

Existing claims for Housing Benefit may be transferred to Universal Credit from 2017.

Key points:

  1. One benefit that replaces six income based benefits: JSA, ESA, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit… and Housing Benefit
  2. You’ll get a single payment for your household
  3. If your Universal Credit includes rent you’ll need to pay rent to your landlord yourself
  4. Who is affected? Right now, all new claims by single people, unless they have complex circumstances. Over the next 2-4 years, this will extend to all new claims, and existing benefit claims will be moved over to Universal Credit.
  5. Pensioners are NOT included – they continue to get current benefits. But a couple made up of a pensioner and a younger person may both have to claim UC.
  6. All done online – are you ready to deal with this? You don’t have to use a computer, a smartphone can be enough, or you can go to your jobcentre. Please let us know if this is a problem for you and we will assist you.
  7. You must have a bank account – a Post Office Card account is no longer enough.
  8. Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears, normally about 6 weeks after you start your claim. The government assumes that you still have money from your last paycheque to keep you going, and that you will budget so your money lasts the whole month.
  9. The Universal Credit helpline (0345 600 0723) costs up to 45p per minute to mobile users. You can ask to be called back, though the DWP is not good at letting you know this. See gov.uk/universal-credit/how-to-claim

Check whether you are ready – click on http://ucpp.dwp.gov.uk/universal-credit-preparation//

Lots more information about Universal Credit on the Shelter website

To find out about the timetable for introduction in your local area, click on this Map and enter your postcode or area in the search box.

Going digital

Universal Credit is planned to become a digital only service – this started with pilots in a few areas in May 2016, and the digital service is planned to completely replace the “live” service by October 2018.

 

Watch out! now can only back-claim housing benefit for 1 month

From April 2016, it has only been possible to back-claim one month of housing benefit (or the housing element of Universal Credit). Previously it was possible to make back claims for up to 6 months.

If you delay making your claim, you never get this lost money back.

Start your claim as soon as you possibly can, once your situation changes.

(A revision to a previous period for up to 13 months may be possible, if you have a prior claim).

One source of advice is the Shelter advice line: free calls to 0808 800 4444 (free even from a mobile)

Sanctions

These are increasingly used, for instance for claimants who miss or are late for an appointment. Sanction for a first offence is 4 weeks loss of benefit, for a second offence during the same year it is 13 weeks. These have severe effects.

Appeals are possible, and you might be able to get a hardship payment from your local Council.