What is Universal Credit (UC), and how will it change the way you get benefits? Here we explain the many aspects of the one benefit to rule them all (well, most of them, anyway), including how you can get a Universal Credit loan as an advance on your first payment.
What is Universal Credit (UC)? How does it change the way you get benefits?
Universal Credit is gradually replacing other benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Housing Benefit. It’s means-tested, meaning the amount of money you get depends on your income, savings and other factors.
Universal Credit is not just for people who can’t find a job or are unable to work. Many people have to top up their income using benefits because their jobs don’t pay enough.
Which benefits are affected?
Universal Credit replaces six benefits: income-based JSA, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.
These six benefits are called legacy benefits. If you’re making a new claim, legacy benefits have now been replaced by UC in every part of the UK. If you’ve applied for Universal Credit, you’ll be put into one of four groups depending on how much you’re expected to do to prepare for and find work:
No work-related requirements
This means you don’t have to be seeking work or do work-related activity to prepare you for work to get benefits. So, you can get Universal Credit while working, but how many hours can you work on universal credit?
Examples of people in this group include a worker working 35 hours per week at national minimum wage level; a parent who is the responsible carer for a child under one; a full-time carer of a severely disabled person; or severely disabled people who have limited capability for work-related activity.
Work-focused interview only
Some people who are caring for a child will be put in this group, where the only requirement is to attend work-focused interviews. If you are the responsible carer for a child aged between the ages of one and three, you will fit into this group.
If your capability for work is limited by sickness or disability, but you can do work-related activity, you’ll need to undertake ‘preparation activities’, such as training or work experience, but you won’t have to hunt for work.
All work-related requirements
If you don’t fit into one of the above groups, and you’re not staying in work, you’ll need to spend 35 hours a week looking for and preparing for work in order to get your benefits.
If you’re already working but your earnings are low you could be required to hunt for more work, or better paid work, in order to get UC.
Find out more about the four groups on the Turn2us website.
What changes under UC?
In most cases, UC will be a single monthly payment, like a salary (although there are some exceptions if this is likely to cause you hardship). You’ll need to budget to keep track of your spending – read our advice on how to make a budget.
It will normally take five weeks before you can receive your first payment of UC, though advance payments are available if you need money to help you start. However, these advance payments are essentially a universal credit loan which must be paid back out of your future Universal Credit payments.
Help with your rent is included in your Universal Credit payment. Housing Benefit could be paid straight to your landlord, but the housing element in Universal Credit will be paid to you (although, again, there are some exceptions), so you’ll need to budget to pay your rent.
The new system is going to be mainly online. This means you need to check your emails regularly and use one email address for your benefit claim. Set up folders and save benefit emails in one place to help you keep track. You will also be given an online journal to manage your claim and work search.
The idea of UC is to ‘make work pay’. This means that you should get more money from taking on a bit of extra work than you would lose in benefits. So don’t worry about how many hours you can work on Universal Credit, the number of hours you work does not affect your entitlement to Universal Credit.
The conditions for claiming UC will be more strict than those for claiming previous benefits, so you might well need to do more to show that you’re looking for work (even if you already work part-time) or risk losing your benefit.
How do I claim UC?
You need to claim UC online, and then have a face-to-face interview. You can go to your local Jobcentre to claim online if you don’t have internet access at home.
If you need help with your claim, call 0800 328 9344 (Textphone 0800 328 1344).
What do I have to do to get UC?
To get UC you need to sign a Claimant Commitment, setting out what you’ll do to prepare for and find work. Even if you already have some work, you might have to set out what you’ll do to find more work and/or money.
If you’re making a joint claim with a partner, you’ll both have to sign a Claimant Commitment.
Find out more about Universal Credit Commitments here.
To get UC, you need to make sure you do everything in your Claimant Commitment and follow all the directions that your advisor gives you. If you don’t, you risk your benefit being cut for a number of months. This is called a sanction. Universal Credit sanctions can be harsh.
Under certain circumstances you could be sanctioned for three years if you break some claimant commitments on three or more occasions.
How much money will I get?
The calculations for working out how much UC you get are complicated. They will depend on:
- Your age
- Whether you live with a partner
- Your income and savings (and your partner’s if you live together)
- Your housing costs
- Any mental or physical health issues that limit your capability for work
- Any children that you have responsibility for
- Childcare costs
- Caring responsibilities (for example for a disabled family member)
There will also be a benefit cap for UC, which again is quite complicated! Basically, if your income from UC and certain other benefits exceeds £1517 a month for a single person or £2167 a month for couples or lone parents, then the amount of UC you get will be reduced. There are various exceptions to this, especially if you’re disabled. Find out more about the Universal Credit Benefit Cap.
You can get a rough idea of how much UC you might be entitled to by using this online benefits calculator.
Can I still get paid UC if I’m working?
You can still claim UC if you’re working and on a low income. Lots of people on low incomes don’t claim benefits they’re entitled to, so it’s worth checking if you’re entitled to UC.
Can students claim Universal Credit?
There are a few circumstances where students can claim:
- The applicant is under 21, in non-advanced education and have no parental support
- They’re a foster parent or have children
- The student is disabled and meets certain requirements
- If a partner is entitled to UC
I’m aged 16 or 17, can I claim UC?
If you’re 16 or 17, you can only claim if you:
- Have limited capability for work through illness or disability
- There’s no relationship with your parents/guardians, or have no parents/guardians
- Have caring responsibilities for a child or disabled person, or
- Are pregnant and 11 weeks or less before the due date, or within 15 weeks of giving birth
How can I appeal a decision about UC?
If you’re refused UC, or there’s a change in how much you get paid, you should get a decision letter. This will tell you what to do next if you want to challenge the decision. It’s important that you do this as soon as possible, as you’ll only have one month from the date of the letter to challenge the decision.
You can find out more about the appeals process from our guide to Benefits Appeals.
Where can I go for help with UC?
Going through the benefits system or other government services is often a frustrating process. But there are lots of places you can go for help:
- Citizen’s advice volunteers know all about the benefits system and can help you understand your rights. You can visit your local bureau to get face-to-face advice and support. You must remember to bring along details of your benefits and general financial situation.
- This benefits calculator from Turn2us shows you how much benefit you should be getting – many people don’t realise how much they’re entitled to.
- Remember, if you want to challenge a decision about your benefit, you can appeal. Read more about benefit appeals and how to appeal a benefit decision.
You should also tell your benefits advisor if your circumstances change – for example, if you get a pay rise, new job or move in with a partner. If you don’t you could face a £50 fine, as well as having to pay back any extra benefit. See GOV.UK for more information.
Unfortunately, we are unable to offer benefits advice at The Mix, but we can give emotional support and guide you to the best places for expert advice. Just give us a call on 0808 808 4994 to get in touch with one of our friendly team members.
By Holly Turner
Updated on 23-Jul-2021
No featured article