The following information gives you a guide to Universal Credit, including when it is coming in, who it applies to and where to find further support and information.
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a new government benefit which is replacing the following working age / income related benefits, also known as 'legacy benefits':
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit
It does not replace the other means tested benefits Council Tax Reduction (which administered by the Council) or Pension Credit.
All other benefits continue, including contribution based JSA, contributory Employment and Support Allowance, disability benefits, pension age benefits and many others.
‘Full service’ Universal Credit fully replaces the above six ‘legacy benefits’ and the reasons for getting them. It means that apart from the two child limit exception below, you will not be able to claim any of those six ‘legacy benefits’.
On 6th June 2015, a limited form of Universal Credit was introduced in Glasgow, called ‘live service’ and took claims from mainly single people who would otherwise have claimed Jobseekers Allowance. Claims for 'live service' ended on 1 January 2018.
How this roll out is happening in practice:
- If someone makes a claim for one of the six ‘legacy benefits' that Universal Credit is replacing (listed above), they will have to claim Universal Credit. This will have to be done online but the Jobcentre provide a helpline – 0800 328 5644 – which is available Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 6.00pm. Also see 'extra help and support under Universal Credit' below.
- If someone is on one or more of the ‘legacy benefits' and has a change in circumstances which generally means a claim for another 'legacy benefit', they will usually be told to claim Universal Credit instead.
- Those on 'live service' Universal Credit will be contacted at some stage by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and told they have to claim full Universal Credit. They must make that claim or their benefit could stop.
At some stage between 2019 and 2023, those who are still on 'legacy benefits' will be moved to Universal Credit - called 'managed migration'.
Two Child limit
There is an added complication to the above. For an interim period, from 6 April 2017, those with three or more children are not able to make a new claim for Universal Credit. They will be advised to claim instead any of the six 'legacy benefits' that Universal Credit is replacing. On 1 February 2019 this will change and Universal Credit claims will be taken from people with three or more children, except they will only get an amount for up to two children. There are exceptions to this, for example the government will exempt children born due to rape, multiple births and children living long term with friends or family under proven formal or informal arrangements.
Who will be able to get Universal Credit?
The reasons for getting Universal Credit are similar to those for the 'legacy benefits' that it is replacing. For example, having no or low income and being in various situations, such as being too ill to work, in work, unemployed, a lone parent, a carer, or needing help with rent or mortgage payments. However, other rules and the amounts may differ. For example, Universal Credit does not have any working hours limits as with 'legacy benefits' like Working Tax Credit.
Universal Credit is payable to one person (although the Scottish Government will be are working with the DWP to have this changed) in the benefit ‘household’ – which includes a partner and any dependent children they are responsible for.
Universal Credit is a 'working age' benefit. That means it is payable from 18 years old up to 'Pension Credit qualifying age' which depends on your date of birth and can be calculated online (where you can also calculate your 'State Pension age'). It can be paid to 16 and 17 year olds in limited circumstances.
The minimum age for claiming Universal Credit is 16 years if the 16/17 year old:
- has limited capability for work;
- is awaiting an assessment to determine whether they have limited capability for work and has a statement from a medical professional stating they are not fit for work;
- has regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person;
- is responsible for a child;
- is a member of a couple and their partner is entitled to UC and is responsible for a child or a qualifying young person;
- is pregnant, and it is 11 weeks or less before her expected week of child birth, or was pregnant and it is 15 weeks or less since the date of the birth; or
- is without parental support.
If you are under 18 and want to know more about your benefit entitlement please seek further advice from a professional advice service.
For couples where only one of them has reached Pension Credit qualifying age, it is presently possible to claim Pension Credit rather than Universal Credit. However, the plan is that at some stage, such 'mixed age' couples would have to claim Universal Credit instead. Where both have reached Pension Credit qualifying age, they will be able to claim Pension Credit. Couples already receiving Pension Credit at the date that Universal Credit is introduced should remain on it, unless their circumstances change and they are no longer entitled. Pension Credit is usually a higher amount than Universal Credit.
How much is Universal Credit?
The amount you get will depend on the circumstances described above, your (or your partner's) income and savings, age, family circumstances (such as children, a couple or single), if you or your partner are incapable of work or a carer and any housing costs. For example, it includes an extra element for a carer, or one of two additional elements if you are incapable of work, an amount for each child, which is higher if they are disabled and so on, (but see the 'two child limit' above). These elements make a total amount which is compared with income you (or your partner) may have and the amount of Universal Credit that you will be paid is the difference on a sliding scale. Income includes earnings and some benefits.
As your income or circumstances change, so too may your Universal Credit. This is similar to the 'legacy benefits'. However, a big difference is that Universal Credit is one benefit with one calculation, so that as you move in and out of work, or your income goes up or down, it will just be the amount of Universal Credit that changes. There may also be differences in the amounts payable under Universal Credit and 'legacy benefits'. See below for what happens to amounts when you have to move to Universal Credit. Also, see our page on how to calculate your benefit entitlement online, including Universal Credit.
If you are an employed Universal Credit claimant, your employer immediately reports any changes in earnings via Pay As You Earn (PAYE) information to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This is referred to as Real Time Information or RTI. However, you still have to notify Jobcentre Plus so that your Universal Credit can be adjusted manually, if your employer doesn't use this system such as for cash in hand payments and other income or for changes in circumstances. You do this via your online 'journal'.
As with 'legacy benefits', the amount of Universal Credit may be restricted by the household benefit cap and the limits on help with rent, such as the Housing Benefit 'under occupancy' rule for social housing tenants, commonly known as the "bedroom tax" and the Local Housing Allowance restrictions for private tenants. There are also restrictions on mortgage help.
How do I claim Universal Credit?
The government expects almost everyone to claim and manage their Universal Credit online. This link takes you to the Universal Credit online claim page.
New claims for the 'live service' were stopped from 1 January 2018. For those who live in a 'full service' roll out area, described above, you can save and return to the online form. The claim for 'full service' Universal Credit will take longer as it requires more information. You will need to provide an email address, a phone number, a password and go through a verification process. You should also get a 16 digit personal security number. You must remember this information. This becomes your personal Universal Credit 'portal' - or 'account' where you will do a lot of interaction with your Jobcentre work coach. See more details on 'managing your Universal Credit online' below.
For support with claiming and other aspects of Universal Credit see Extra help and support under Universal Credit.
Jobcentre Plus provides a free phone telephone number for help and advice on making an online claim which is available from Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm: 0800 328 5644.
Once the online claim is made, you will be sent details of an appointment at the Jobcentre Plus office, within a few days, to confirm your details in the claim, perhaps help with verification and agree, if appropriate, work related activity - called the Claimant Commitment. For couples, Universal Credit is claimed by one person and will usually be paid to that person, although split payments may be made possible in certain circumstances.
If you try to claim Universal Credit online but you are not eligible, you will be directed to some other benefits you may be entitled to.
If you don't have home internet access or need a PC in order to complete a Universal Credit claim, Glasgow City Council have worked in partnership with a number of internal and external organisations across the city to offer Financial and Digital support to help mitigate the impact of Universal Credit.
Managing your Universal Credit online - your Universal Credit 'account'
Once on Universal Credit, you are able to manage and check the award online and also use it to report changes in circumstances and communicate with your Jobcentre Plus work coach. It will list ongoing actions you have to do in order to comply with the claim and your work related activity called a 'to do' list. Your actions and communications with your work coach is recorded in the 'journal' area. Your online Universal Credit account can also be accessed via a smart phone and you can choose how to receive notifications of actions - by email or text. Remember to tell them if you change these contact details so you do not miss any instructions. For more detail see the above section 'How do I claim Universal Credit'.
How is Universal Credit paid?
Payments and delays
If you are entitled to Universal Credit, payments will be made one month in arrears. However in Scotland you can request that your monthly entitlement is paid to you in two installments each month. See Scottish Choices
This means that the first payment is delayed by five weeks or longer. There may be additional delays with administrative or verification issues. If so you can ask for an 'Advance payment of Universal Credit'. See also below 'extra help and support for Universal Credit' if you have difficulty with monthly payments in arrears.
Advance payments of Universal Credit
Under Universal Credit there are three kinds of discretionary recoverable advance payments. Here is a short summary of the main rules:
- Universal Credit Advance (new claim or change in circumstances): can be requested from Jobcentre Plus for delays in payments of Universal Credit if there is a serious risk to health or safety. The advance can be requested to provide emergency funds during the first five weeks of a new claim for Universal Credit, or if there is a change in circumstances where Universal Credit is likely to go up (such as the birth of a child) or if there is a delay in payment due to a technical reason.
- Universal Credit Advance (Benefit Transfer): can help people who are moving over to Universal Credit from 'legacy benefits' and are in financial need.
- Universal Credit Budgeting Advance: for one-off expenses like furniture or household equipment, clothing, rent in advance, essential home improvements, travel to work costs, maternity and funeral expenses and help to obtain or remain in work such as upfront child care costs. You must have been on Universal Credit for six months or more and do not have the resources to meet the item. This replaces the Social Fund budgeting loans for people on Universal Credit.
- Housing Costs: the housing costs element of Universal Credit which replaces Housing Benefit for tenants, will be paid direct to you, rather than being paid to your landlord as is the case for many existing Housing Benefit claimants. However, those tenants who need budgeting support or who get into rent arrears after a month or two, can have their rent element and rent arrears paid direct to the landlord, for a temporary period. For claimants living in Scotland this option has been made easier to obtain. See also advice for landlords and tenants and 'extra help and support for Universal Credit' below. Some 'exempt properties' such as hostels, women's refuges, supported and temporary accommodation are still eligible for Housing Benefit instead of getting housing costs in their Universal Credit. People on Housing Benefit who claim Universal Credit, will be able to get two week's equivalent of their Housing Benefit to ease the transition.
What happens if my circumstances change?
Your monthly payment period is called your ‘assessment period’. Universal Credit payments are calculated based on the claimant’s circumstances at the end of each assessment period. Where there is a change of circumstances part way through an assessment period, the claimant’s next payment reflects their new circumstances. The change is not applied ‘pro-rata’ and can result in winners and losers. For example:
- If a you move to a new property with a higher rent part way through an assessment period, your next Universal Credit payment - for the past month - is calculated based on your new rent (so long as you notify the change in that month). This means you gain.
- On the other hand, moving to a property with a lower rent means your next Universal Credit payment covers your new, lower rent. It’ll be the same if you leave a property - no housing costs are included in the Universal Credit payment for that past month. This means you lose.
How do you receive your Universal Credit?
To receive Universal Credit you will need an account with a bank or a building society. Post Office card accounts may be too limited for Universal Credit. If you can't use an account, Jobcentre Plus may use a 'Simple Payment' service to pay your Universal Credit. Each have their own criteria and limitations.
The amount of Universal Credit paid may be reduced
The amount of Universal Credit paid may also be reduced in several ways. For example, by a 'sanction' for not satisfying work-related activity requirements (see below), if a non-dependent (such as a grown up son or daughter) is living in the house, for the recovery of an overpayment or to pay off arrears of rent or fuel, water rates, loans or fines and so on
How will Universal Credit affect those not in full time work?
There are various levels of work-related requirements that most claimants and their partners will have to do in return for receiving Universal Credit, depending on their circumstances. This can range from being fully available for and seeking full time work and taking part in mandatory work activities to having no work related requirements. These requirements are included in the Claimant Commitment agreement that you have to go through with the Jobcentre Plus ‘work coach’. Many of these work-related requirements exist for benefits like JSA but under Universal Credit they are extended to more partners, some carers and some people in work. No work-related requirements can be imposed on you if you work and your earnings are above a certain threshold amount, which depends on whether you are single or a couple and what work requirements you are expected to undertake.
For more details, see the DWP description 'Universal Credit and your Claimant Commitment' and the Citizens Advice description of the work-related requirements.
If you don't comply with your work-related requirements a ‘sanction' may be applied. This means your Universal Credit 'standard allowance' is stopped or reduced for a length of time. This can be from four weeks and up to three years. This will not affect the amount of the Universal Credit payment that is given for a child or housing costs. Unlike 'legacy benefits', sanctions under Universal Credit run consecutively rather than concurrently. Also, the hardship payment that may be claimed during the sanction is a repayable loan. This means that under Universal Credit, you will face longer periods on reduced benefit if you don't comply with the requirements of your Claimant Commitment. You have a right to challenge and appeal against these decisions. See Appeals Pack for more information.
Universal Credit and volunteering
There are new rules under Universal Credit for volunteers. For more information and help to avoid problems, please read our guidance on Universal Credit and Volunteering
Other Benefits, help and general rules
As described above, Universal Credit is replacing working age 'legacy benefits' but many other benefits will continue to exist. They include all the 'non means tested' benefits like Personal Independence Payment, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Retirement Pension, Child Benefit and also the 'means tested' benefits for older people such as Pension Credit and so on. These other benefits will also interact with Universal Credit, for example a child getting Disability Living Allowance leads to an extra amount of Universal Credit and a benefit such as Contributory JSA can reduce Universal Credit entitlement as it is classed as income.
At the moment, if you get any amount of Universal Credit you may be entitled to free school meals and free school clothing grant but this may change at some stage.
As with all other benefits, if you are unhappy with a Universal Credit decision, you can ask the DWP to reconsider their decision (called a 'mandatory reconsideration') and if still unhappy, in most cases you can appeal to an independent tribunal. See advice and letters to use when requesting a mandatory reconsideration and appeal See Appeals Pack for more information.
Extra help and support under Universal Credit
It is recognized that the move to a single monthly household payment will be a significant change to the way most benefits are currently paid and has introduced the Alternative Payment Arrangements scheme which provides the following help on a temporary basis if you are identified as needing additional support:
- Paying the housing element of Universal Credit as a Managed Payment direct to the landlord
- More frequent than monthly payment
- A split payment of an award between partner
For more information see Universal Credit - Alternative Payment arrangements
Speaking to the Jobcentre on behalf of a Universal Credit claimant
The DWP has laid out how claimants can give advisers and others supporting them consent to discuss their Universal Credit award with Jobcentre Plus. The DWP guidance lays out the various ways the claimant can give time limited ‘explicit consent’ via the claimant’s online Universal Credit account and over the telephone etc.
Will my benefit go up or down when I transfer to Universal Credit?
The above describes ways in which those on 'legacy benefits' might have to claim Universal Credit if for example, they live in a full service Universal Credit area and have a change in circumstances. If that happens, and their Universal Credit is a lower amount they will drop down to that amount. The Government intend to introduce regulations in the autumn of 2018. The current draft of the proposal can be viewed here.
From about 2019, those still on 'legacy benefits' will be asked to claim Universal Credit, called 'managed migration'. If their 'legacy benefits' are higher than Universal Credit, they will keep the difference, called ‘Transitional Protection’ however, this amount is frozen until the Universal Credit amount catches up with it with inflation and it can also be lost with a change in circumstances such as a partner leaving or joining the household or if earnings fall below a certain level.
Toolkit for employers and landlords
The DWP website provides these useful set of resources:
Further information about Universal Credit
You can find lots more information about Universal Credit from Disability Rights UK and the governments, ‘Universal Credit toolkit’ and their introduction to Universal Credit called "Universal Credit and you"
To help you understand what changes you may need to make, the government have also produced an online Universal Credit personal planner, 'getting ready for Universal Credit'.