10 things you need to know about universal credit

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Universal credit is being rolled out from today (except in Northern Ireland). It will replace means-tested benefits that you can claim if you’re of working age. It is being gradually rolled out and the rollout should be finished by 2022. What does it mean if you’re currently claiming benefits?

1. Universal credit will be paid to working age people. Universal credit is a means-tested benefit. It’s designed to replace a range of benefits that people who are of working age (ie those below state pension age) can claim.

2. Universal credit will replace six ‘working age’ benefits. It will replace child tax credit, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and working tax credit.

3. There are several benefits that universal credit will not replace. The benefits that aren’t replaced include the state pension, pension credit, statutory sick pay, maternity, paternity and adoption pay, maternity allowance, child benefit (which is only ‘means tested’ if one parent earns more than £50,000), disability living allowance, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance and personal independence payment.

4. Universal credit will be paid monthly in arrears. Universal credit will be paid monthly directly into your bank, building society or Post Office account. In practice, it means you could wait for six weeks for your first payment. You can ask for an advance payment – and Citizens Advice has information on how to get an advance payment. If both you and your husband, wife or partner receive universal credit, you’ll only get one payment per household. You can find information on the GOV.UK website about how and when your benefits are paid.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re concerned that your partner will not pass on the money to you or will try and control the money, you can ask for the payment to be split (the term for it is simply a ‘split payment’).

5. Your partner or husband/wife’s finances will be taken into account. If you live with someone as a couple or you are married, you have to provide details of his or her income when you claim for universal credit. That means your partner’s income and savings will be taken into account and may affect the amount you get.

SAVVY TIP: You can get an estimate of the amount of universal credit you may be entitled to by using the benefits calculator on the website of the charity Turn2us.org.uk

6. Universal credit is being phased in between now and 2022. From 2015 universal credit has been rolled out across England, Scotland and Wales. However, the completion date has been put back repeatedly and recently politicians of different parties have called for it to be paused.

SAVVY TIP: The GOV.UK website has a list of the jobcentres that are currently taking applications for universal credit.

7. You have to apply for universal credit online. The GOV.UK website has information on how you can apply for universal credit. There is a helpline if you need help making your claim online. Be warned that the website tells you that it will take between 20 and 40 minutes to make your claim.

SAVVY TIP: If you don’t have access to a computer, you can ask your jobcentre or your local council and they should also give you help and advice with completing your claim.

8. You can challenge a universal credit decision if you think it’s wrong. If you think you’ve not been awarded enough money or if your claim has been turned down, you should contact the Department for Work and Pensions and ask for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’. You will be given the contact details for the DWP in your notice that tells you how much universal credit you’re going to get.

SAVVY TIP: If you want to appeal a decision about your universal credit, I’d suggest that you get in touch with Citizens Advice or a welfare rights organisation as they should be able to help you.

9. You have to sign a claimant commitment in order to get universal credit. This sets out what you have to do in order to continue to receive universal credit. It might be that you are expected to apply for a certain number of jobs or to sign up with one or more recruitment agencies. If you don’t fulfil the steps outlined in your claimant commitment, you could be sanctioned, which means you’ll lose your benefits.

10. You can get information and help with budgeting. The government has produced a leaflet which you can download designed to help people who claim universal credit with their budgeting (the leaflet is also available in Welsh). The Money Advice Service also has information about universal credit, including an article called how to budget for a monthly benefit payment. The Money Advice Service also has an article called Getting to grips with paying your own rent (as universal credit will include a payment to replace housing benefit).

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