How to claim & what you can get
Universal credit is a monthly benefit to support those on low incomes (or no income) with living and housing costs. It replaces six benefits – including housing benefit and working tax credit. If you need help with housing and living expenses, you can no longer apply for any of the six 'legacy benefits' – instead you'll need to apply for universal credit. See our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator to see how much you could get.
Universal Credit and coronavirus
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Government has made changes to universal credit, including upping the monthly standard rate – eg, from £317.82 to £409.89 for single people aged 25 or over. It's also removed the 'minimum income floor', to help self-employed people whose income has fallen, and increased the allowance for private renters who need help with housing costs.
There's also other help available
Universal credit is one of the key benefits offered to those on low incomes or out of work but there are many other benefits available – for example jobseeker's allowance, pension credit and council tax reduction. You can find out more and check if you're eligible in our 10-minute Benefits Check guide.
Need urgent help with bills? There's more available around mortgages, credit cards, utility costs, insurance and more. For details on what financial help is available, including payment holidays, see our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide.
What is universal credit?
Universal credit is a monthly benefit for people who are out of work or on low incomes. It replaces six means-tested benefits, often referred to as 'legacy benefits'. All new claimants will go straight onto universal credit, and eventually everyone currently in the old system will be switched over or "migrated" to universal credit. Right now, this process has been temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.
The six legacy benefits that universal credit replaces are:
Universal credit was designed to behave just like a paying salaried job, which means instead of getting the benefit weekly, or fortnightly, it is paid in monthly arrears, with the first payment coming after five weeks. This has meant that many people have struggled in those initial weeks. If this is you, there's help you can get .Unlike other means-tested benefits in the past, there is no "set amount" you can earn before you stop getting the benefit. The government first looks at what you need to live on, given your circumstances, then it looks at what you have (income, assets, other benefits etc) and then it awards you the difference.
So while it allows you to work and still receive support, the amount you get is adjusted in line with your (and your partner's, if you have one) earnings.
Another big difference is you can't get it if you – or your partner – have savings or capital over £16,000. See more about the effect of savings here.Other difficulties are:
- Childcare paid in arrears which forces claimants to pay £100s upfront. The Government has promised to give more help to claimants starting work.
- Lower payments for some compared with legacy benefits. To see if you'll be better off switching, use our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator.
- Monthly payments cause budgeting headaches for some. As a result the Government is piloting more frequent payments.
- The housing element does not go directly to landlords, meaning many people are struggling to manage their finances. The Government promises to pay landlords direct.
Only the six benefits mentioned are replaced by universal credit. Many others will not be affected, including:
- Child benefit
- State pension
- Disability living allowance
- Personal independence payment
- Statutory maternity pay
To work out if you're eligible, use our free Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator.
Warning: NEVER give out your personal details when contacted out of the blue.
Scammers are targeting people on benefits by offering to 'help' them apply for interest-free Government loans. But once the scammer has your personal details, they're used to apply for universal credit, and big advanced payments. You could see your existing benefits stopped and be made responsible for repaying hefty amounts.
For more on avoiding scams, see our Stop Scams guide.
Can I get universal credit?
If you're unemployed, been made redundant, off work due to sickness, or on a low income, you could be eligible for universal credit to help you meet your basic living costs. You could work for an employer, be self-employed, have been recently furloughed or made redundant, or have had a reduction in wages, and still apply.
It is quick and easy to check if you're likely to get universal credit, and how much. Just use our 10-minute Benefits Calculator.
You might be able to claim universal credit if:
- You're out of work or on a low income.
- You've been made redundant.
- You're aged 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you're 16 or 17).
- You or your partner are under state pension age.
- You have less than £16,000 in savings – if you have a partner, their savings count too (if you're self-employed, some savings may not count if they're for business purposes, eg, tax. Full what counts info is below).
- You live in the UK.
- You currently receive any of the benefits that universal credit is replacing – eg, working tax credits, child tax credit, income support, housing benefit – and your circumstances change.
If you're claiming a legacy benefit and have a change in circumstances – eg, you've moved in with a partner – you may get migrated over to universal credit.
The Government has a list of examples for what counts as a change of circumstances, and benefits specialist Entitledto has a list of circumstances which also gives an overview of how your benefits will be affected.
If you don't have a change of circumstance, you will stay on the legacy benefit until you're moved over as part of the migration. Do NOT try to beat the system – you have to report changes straightaway or you risk losing your benefits altogether.
In some cases, you can apply when you're 16 or 17 – for example, if you have a child, you can't work or you're caring for a severely disabled person.
You can make a universal credit claim regardless of how many children you have, but how many you'll get support for depends on when your children were born. See the 'child element' section for more info.
Universal credit's a means-tested benefit. This means that the amount of income and savings you have will affect your eligibility and how much you might be entitled to, eg, you'll get less universal credit if you have savings over £6,000 or earn enough money to cover your basic living costs. If you've savings of £16,000 or over, you won't be eligible for universal credit.
If you live with your partner, you must make a joint claim. Your partner's income and savings will be taken into account, even if they aren't eligible for universal credit.
You can use childcare vouchers and universal credit together but you CAN'T get universal credit at the same time as claiming under the Tax-Free Childcare scheme.
Universal credit can help by paying back up to 85% of your childcare costs (to a maximum of £646 for one child, £1,108 for two or more children). You can make a claim through your account, but be aware you need to provide receipts and will only be reimbursed after your childcare has taken place.
You can use universal credit with childcare vouchers, but as you'll only be able to claim on the costs not covered by the vouchers, you may be better off not using the vouchers at all, as universal credit will likely contribute more to your costs.
For example, if you've monthly childcare costs of £1,000 and you pay £500 with vouchers, you can only claim back up to 85% of the remaining £500 through universal credit: £425.
In contrast, if you had childcare costs of £1,000 and only used universal credit to pay for it, you could claim back up to £850, so twice as much.
If you were claiming childcare vouchers before they were stopped, you can continue to claim them even if you're claiming universal credit.
Tax-Free Childcare is a Government-backed scheme, launched in 2017. You can switch between Tax-Free Childcare and universal credit if one is better for your circumstances.
The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group offers more guidance on how this could work for you.
Eventually everyone will move over to universal credit, but the process of "managed migration" has been suspended due to coronavirus. This means that right now nobody is switched over unless they actively choose to be, or has a change in their circumstances that triggers a switch.
Managed migration will eventually see everyone moved over to universal credit – not just those who make new claims or have a change in circumstance.
You won't lose out if you're moved over in the managed migration – if you have any drop in benefit, you'll get a 'transitional top-up payment'. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told us these payments will continue until you've a change in circumstances – eg, if a partner moves out and you have to reapply as a single claimant.
You will ONLY get the transitional top-up payment if you are part of the managed migration – not if you moved on to universal credit before July 2019 due to a change in circumstance.
How much can I get?
Your circumstances Monthly standard allowance
Single and under 25
Single and 25 or over
In a couple and both under 25
£488.59 per couple
In a couple and either of you is 25 or over
£594.04 per couple
In addition, universal credit offers some people extra help. This is for:
- Housing costs – for rent, but mortgage-holders can apply for a 'support for mortgage interest' loan
- If you care for children
- If you have a sickness or disability that prevents you from working
- If you have other caring responsibilities
Don't forget it's quick and simple to see how much you could get with our 10-minute Benefits Calculator.
No. England and Wales follow the same guidelines, but Scotland has some extra flexibility and Northern Ireland has a different system.
Scotland has added flexibilities when it comes to receiving the payments, known as 'Scottish choices'. After you've received your first monthly universal credit payment, you can make two sets of choices. The first, between:
Being paid monthly, or
Being paid twice a month
The second, between:
Having the housing element of universal credit paid into your bank account, or
Having the housing element paid directly to your landlord
Universal credit works differently in Northern Ireland. For example, it's normally paid twice a month, though you can choose to be paid monthly. Find out more on the NIdirect website.
One significant change to universal credit is the amount you can now claim towards housing costs. The amount it paid out for private tenants towards rent had been frozen since 2016, but from April the housing element of universal credit was unfrozen, meaning people who rent privately could be eligible for more money.
The housing element of universal credit can be used to cover:
- Rent – to a private landlord or for social housing
- The interest on your mortgage – in the form of a loan called 'support for mortgage interest'. But there are limits
- Some of the essential service charges you may pay
I pay rent, how much can I get?
The amount you get is set by your age, circumstances and the 'local housing allowance' rate in your area. To get an idea of what yours might be, see your area's rates here.
Here are some examples:
The amount for two-bedroom accommodation in the London borough of Ealing is £339.49/week or about £1,360/month.
The amount for a two-bedroom accommodation in the Isle of Scilly is £143.84/week or about £575/month.
I need help with my mortgage, how much can I get?
If you are having difficulty meeting your mortgage payments, you should speak to your lender and see whether a 'mortgage holiday' is right for you. The payment holiday won't affect your credit rating and it could save you from going into arrears. If you have already taken a holiday or are looking for other options, you could apply for 'support for mortgage interest' (SMI).
If you qualify for universal credit, after nine months you can apply for SMI on up to £200,000 of your mortgage, based on a standard rate of interest – currently 1.3%. The money is paid directly to your lender. This is a loan and not a benefit – this means it must be repaid when you die or sell your home. For more information, see the Gov.uk website.
Yes. If you're looking after a child under the age of 16, you can apply for an extra amount to help with the costs. If you have two children, you'll get extra for your second child. If you have three children you might get an extra payment, but it depends when they were born.
How much can I get?
For your first child:
- £281.25 (born before 6 April 2017)
- £235.83 (born on or after 6 April 2017)
For your second child (and any other eligible children):
- £235.83 per child
If you have three or more children, you only get an extra amount for third or subsequent children if any of the following are true:
- If your children were born before 6 April 2017, and
- You were already claiming for three or more children before 6 April 2017
If you have a disabled or severely disabled child:
£128.25 or £400.29
How much can I get?
If you have limited capability for work and work-related activity:
£341.92 a month
If you have limited capability for work and you started your health-related universal credit claim before 3 April 2017:
£128.25 a month
IMPORTANT: If you have paid enough national insurance contributions, you may be able to claim new-style employment and support allowance (ESA) of up to about £446/mth. You can claim new-style ESA alongside universal credit if you need the other elements of universal credit, such as for children or housing, but be aware this may reduce your overall universal credit entitlement.
If you're a carer for someone in your household for at least 35 hours a week who is severely disabled, you may be able to get the 'carer's element' as part of your monthly universal credit payment.
How much can I get?
£160.20 a month
IMPORTANT: If you and someone else in your household care for the same person, you can't both get the carer's element. You'll have to decide which of you will claim it. If you're getting the separate carer's allowance benefit you can continue to get it, if you continue to be eligible.
No. But if you're on a low income you can apply for a council tax reduction. This is a long-standing discount of up to 100% off bills for those on benefits or a low income. It doesn't matter if you own your own home or rent, or whether you're employed or not. All can apply. Yet what you get depends on:
For more information see our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide.
- Where you live (each council runs its own scheme)
- Your circumstances (eg, income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Your income, including savings, pensions and your partner's income
- If children live with you
- If other adults live with you
Yes. But you need to know that your redundancy payout, if you get one, will be counted in your total assets – so if it takes you over the £6,000 mark it can impact how much your monthly payment is. And if it's over £16,000 you will be ineligible.
Your amount will reduce if you have income or savings
This will include:
This may be from a job or self-employed work. If you have children or are disabled, you can earn up to a particular amount – the 'work allowance' referenced above – before your payment starts to be reduced.
This allowance is £287 a month if you get help towards paying your housing costs, or £503 a month if you don't. And for every £1 you earn (above your work allowance if you have one), your universal credit will be reduced by 63p.
This may be in a bank account. If you have less than £6,000 you'll have to declare it, but it won't affect your universal credit entitlement. Having between £6,001 and £16,000 will affect your universal credit amount, while anything more than £16,000 will stop you getting universal credit.
For every £1 of other income you receive, your universal credit payment will reduce by £1 (excludes some benefits, eg, child benefit, disability living allowance, personal independence payment and war pensions).
Other things that might affect your payment
Your final universal credit entitlement is then worked out using anything else that could affect you.
- This could include any sanctions (when your benefits are stopped for a set period of time) or over/underpayments of benefits.
- It'll also take into account the benefits cap. This is the total amount of benefits (some are excluded) your household can receive in a year. In London, this is up to £23,000 for couples and families (£15,410 for single people without children), while outside of London, it's up to £20,000 (£13,400 for single people without children).
Of course, the easiest way to work out how much you'll get is to use our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator, which will also inform you what other benefits you may be eligible for.
Here's an example, of 'Sarah', assuming universal credit is available. (We've excluded housing costs for ease.)
Sarah is a single parent with an eight-year-old daughter. She's 35 and works part-time in an office for 20 hours a week, earning £13,000/yr. She pays £10/mth towards a personal pension under auto-enrolment.
She doesn't currently receive any disability or sickness benefits and she doesn't pay for childcare for her daughter, as Sarah's mum looks after her daughter during the school holidays, and Sarah has scheduled her work hours so she can care for her daughter outside school hours.
Putting Sarah's details into our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator, we discover that:
- Step 1 results: Sarah's maximum allowance would be £7,140, which includes money for the child element.
- Step 2 results: Sarah's total allowance is reduced as she earns £12,880 before tax and national insurance contributions (but after pension contributions) each year.
- Step 3 results: As there's nothing else that could affect Sarah's claim, her final universal credit entitlement is £2,592 a year (£216 a month).
If you've been moved on to universal credit as part of the 'managed migration', you'll get a top-up so that your amount remains the same.
Joe currently receives £800 a month from the benefits to be replaced by universal credit, but his universal credit entitlement is £700 a month. He'll then receive a transitional protection amount of £100 a month to top up his amount, so he's not worse off.
However, it's important to note that the top-up amount can change depending on Joe's circumstances:
If Joe's universal credit entitlement increases to £750/month the following April, his transitional amount will simply be reduced to £50, and if/once his universal credit entitlement rises to £800 or above, he will lose his transitional entitlement.
The same applies if Joe starts earning more money. For every £1 he earns, his universal credit entitlement goes down by 63p. If he was to earn enough money that his universal credit entitlement fell to £0, he'd lose his top-up, though it wouldn't happen straightaway.
You will not receive a 'transitional top-up' once you're moved over to universal credit:
Tom currently receives £1,000 a month, but will get £1,100 once on universal credit. When he's moved over, he will just see his payments increase to £1,100.
Many people wrongly think they're not entitled to benefits or simply aren't aware they can claim. As the roll-out is now complete, only a small number of people will be able to still claim some legacy benefits – all other claimants will need to apply for universal credit instead.
If you are already claiming legacy benefits, you'll receive a top-up payment from the Government if your universal credit award is less than your legacy benefit award.
Of course, you could also be better off under the new system. You can use our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator to see what you may be entitled to.
When will I be paid?
All payment dates are individual, as they're based on when someone's applied. For example:
Sarah applies for universal credit on 1 September. Her first assessment period will last until 30 September. She's paid on 7 October and will be paid on the 7th of every month after that.
If you're in a couple living together, you'll get one payment into one account for your household. If you're concerned you won't get access to this money, you should contact the universal credit helpline on (freephone) 0800 328 5644. You can get an alternative payment arrangement to receive split payments.
You're usually paid once a month, but there are some regional differences to this.
In Scotland, you can choose to be paid twice a month – speak to your work coach if you're already claiming.
If you're making a new claim, you'll receive a notification after your first payment asking how you want to be paid in future.
You'll automatically be paid twice a month in Northern Ireland. If you'd rather be paid monthly, you can request this from your work coach.
You'll have to wait at least five weeks for your first payment – here's what help you can get
Universal credit is paid after an assessment, so even when all is working fine, you won't get your first payment until about five weeks after making your claim – this includes a four-week assessment period and up to seven days for your payment to reach your bank account at the end.
You can request an advance payment while you wait
If you don't have enough money to live on while you wait for your first payment, there is help you can get. You can request an advance payment through your online universal credit account, or through your work coach.
If you need help applying, call the free universal credit helpline: 0800 328 5644.
You may receive all or part of your first payment. It's interest-free but works like a loan, and you'll repay it through your regular universal credit payments, which will be lower until you pay it back. You can choose over how many months you want to pay it back, but it must be fully repaid within 12 months.
You'll usually be told the same day if you'll get an advance, and you'll typically have the money within three working days.
How to claim universal credit
If you fit the criteria, you can claim universal credit online. In most instances you must make your claim online, so ask friends and family for help if you need to.
You can contact the free universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 if you run into difficulties, or if you need to make a claim in an alternative format such as Braille, large print or audio CD. For Welsh language applications, call 0800 012 1888.
You'll be asked a few questions to ensure you meet the basic criteria before being taken to the main claim page.
Citizens Advice also assists universal credit applicants.
As you have to make your claim in one online session (you can't save and come back to it), you should ensure you have all the information you'll need before starting.
At the very least, this will include your:
- Contact details
- Bank account details
- National insurance number
Depending on what's relevant to you, you may also need details of your:
- Current employment
- Monthly earnings (have a copy of your payslip to hand)
- Housing costs
- Tenancy agreement
- Other income, savings and any other benefits you or your partner receive
Although it goes without saying, make sure you only give correct information as you'll have to provide proof of anything you say in your application.
Once you've entered all the information, you'll be shown an estimate of the amount of universal credit you'll get each month.
You'll also have to complete a declaration that all the information you've provided is correct.
If your application's successful, you'll be told to arrange an interview at your local Jobcentre Plus. You won't get universal credit if you don't go to the interview.
You'll be told what information you need to take to the interview, but it'll definitely include physical evidence of details you provided in your claim (eg, your address, how much rent you pay, how much you earn at work).
Citizens Advice has a comprehensive guide on how to prepare for your interview and examples of documents you may need to take with you.
At this interview you'll have to sign a 'claimant commitment'. This is an agreement that you will commit to certain conditions, such as looking for a set amount of work hours.
If you are or become self-employed, you may be eligible for universal credit. You will need to meet the general universal credit eligibility criteria.
You will also need to pass the DWP's test for being 'gainfully self-employed' (more on this below). If you're not considered to be 'gainfully self-employed', you can still claim, but you'll be expected to look for employment.
The amount you get is based on your income (and your partner's income, if you have one) and the 'minimum income floor', which is what the Government expects an employed person to earn given similar circumstances. How it's calculated is outlined further down.
However, right now the minimum income floor has been temporarily suspended, meaning if your profits dip below a certain level your benefit will increase accordingly.
What does gainfully self-employed mean?
It means being self-employed such that you'll be able to become financially independent. With this goal in mind, you will need to show that:
- Your self-employment is your main job or source of income
- You're getting regular work from self-employment
- Your work is "organised and developed"
- You expect to make a profit
You have to show you mean business and there will be a reality check. You'll need evidence such as:
- Tax returns, accounts and your business plan (if you have one)
- Your unique taxpayer reference if you're registered for self-assessment
- Customer and supplier lists, receipts and invoices
- Marketing materials
- How many hours you're working
- How much you're earning
If you pass the test of being considered as gainfully self-employed, you'll be supported towards the goal of becoming financially independent. You won't have to look for other work.
You will have to report your earnings to the DWP every month.
How much will I get?
This is worked out based on the 'minimum income floor'. This is the amount that the Government assumes you'll earn, based on how much an employed person in similar circumstances would earn. It's calculated on the national minimum wage for someone in your age group multiplied by the number of hours you're expected to look for and be available for work.
If you earn less than the minimum income floor, usually you'd have to find additional work to top up your income, as universal credit won't make up the difference. Your payments were not adjusted as if you're earning the minimum income floor, even if you're actually not earning that much. But currently, due to coronavirus the minimum income floor has been suspended.
Now, without the 'minimum income floor' in place, you can earn less than this, and the amount of universal credit you get will be boosted.
A self-employed worker aged 25 working full-time would previously be assumed to be earning at least about £1,310/mth. If they actually earned less, their universal credit payment would not have previously increased. But now, if they earn less than £1,310/mth or even zero, their universal credit payment will reflect their actual earnings.
If you earn more than the minimum income floor, your universal credit payments will be based on your actual earnings.
The minimum income floor doesn't apply to everybody. You're exempt from it if:
- You look after a child under the age of three
- You're pregnant or gave birth in the past 15 weeks
- You're caring for a severely disabled person
- You've been assessed as having limited capacity for work, or limited capacity for work-related activity
- You're in full-time education
- You're temporarily too sick to work
A year of support before earning thresholds apply
If you start self-employment while claiming universal credit, the minimum income floor will not apply for the first 12 months. This means that during this 'start-up period', your universal credit payment is based on your actual earnings, even if they're lower than the income floor.
This is also the case if you started your self-employment less than a year before starting a universal credit claim – here you also get a 12-month start-up period from the beginning of your claim.
In the start-up period you won't need to look or be available for other work, but you will need to show you are taking steps to build your business.
What do I have to do while I'm getting universal credit?
If you're getting income from self-employment, you need to report your earnings every month. You'll be sent a 'statement of earnings' form, which you should use to record any income received and expenses paid, including pension contributions, during your 'assessment period'. (Your statement of earnings form will tell you when this starts and ends.)
Whether you'll need to look for other work to keep getting universal credit depends on your circumstances.
Currently all face-to-face health assessments have been suspended due to coronavirus. Instead you will be asked to submit medical documents.
When you apply for universal credit, you must fill in whether you've a disability, illness or health condition which means you can't work. This includes physical and mental health issues. If you say yes, you will most likely need to attend a 'work capability assessment' (WCA).
Mostly, this will happen around the 29th day of your claim, but there are certain instances where you may be referred to one on the first day – for example, if you're terminally ill or you're not legally allowed to work.
At the WCA, you'll be asked questions about your condition and how it affects your daily life, and how it might vary over time.
However, if you're unable to travel to an assessment centre, you can request a home visit when you make your appointment. You'll need to provide evidence of why you need a home visit.
Home visits are only granted when you have a disability or illness that means you'll have trouble travelling, and you live a certain distance from an assessment centre. Requesting a home visit doesn't necessarily mean you'll receive one. Contact your work coach or the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 for more information.
You'll need to fill in the UC50 form
Once your referral to a WCA has been made, you'll need to fill in the UC50 form, which will be sent to you in paper form with your appointment letter. If you can't fill it in yourself, you can ask a friend, relative, carer or support worker to help you.
If you don't have anyone to support you, or you still need help, you can speak to someone at the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments on 0800 288 8777.
You must send it to the Health Assessment Advisory Service – the address and deadline will be printed on the letter. Do NOT take it to the Jobcentre; if you do your claim might be delayed.
Send copies of all the medical information you have, for example GP reports, scans or your prescription list. You don't need to request or pay for new information. Don't send any originals.
After the work capability assessment
Once you've had your assessment, a report will be sent to the DWP and used by a case worker (along with other evidence you've provided) to make a decision on whether you're:
- Fit to work
- Have limited capacity for work
- Have limited capacity for work and work-related activity
If you're deemed fit enough, you'll need to look for work that's suitable for your condition, and be prepared to work to keep getting universal credit.
If you've limited capacity for work, you won't have to look for it straightaway, but you'll need to prepare for working in future, for example by writing a CV. If this is you, you can get an extra £126.11 a month in some circumstances.
If you're considered to have limited capacity for work and work-related activity, you'll not be expected to look for or prepare for work. If this is you, you could get an extra £328.32 a month.
If your application's successful, you'll have an interview at your Jobcentre
After a successful online claim, you'd ordinarily have to visit the Jobcentre and have an interview with your work coach if you want to claim universal credit. However, all face-to-face interviews have been suspended due to coronavirus. Instead, you'll be required to attend a telephone interview.
If you don't attend this interview, you won't be eligible for universal credit.
You'll have to sign a 'claimant commitment' to receive your universal credit entitlement.
This is an agreement that, if asked, you'll do a certain amount of work-related tasks each week, such as going to interviews at the Jobcentre, writing your CV or applying for jobs. Right now, all work-related tasks have been suspended from people's claimant commitments.
How much you'll have to commit to is determined by which of four groups you're placed into:
- No work-related requirements group. You usually won't have to commit to anything.
- Work-focused interview group. You'll have to have regular 'work-focused' interviews with your work coach at the Jobcentre. Note: Right now this is suspended.
- Work preparation group. You'll have to do activities that prepare you for work including writing your CV, doing work experience and having regular 'work-focused' interviews with your work coach at the Jobcentre. Note: Right now this is suspended.
- All work-related requirements group. You'll have to look and apply for jobs and go to job interviews for a certain number of hours every week (usually 35 hours although less if, for example, you have children at school). Note: Right now this is suspended.
Citizens Advice has a handy list of circumstances that could apply to you and the group you should be placed into as a result.
Your specific commitment will be unique to you. Make sure you discuss with your work coach if you feel you've been placed in the wrong group, or you think you won't be able to meet your commitments.
It's better to sort out any issues you have at this stage, than risk being sanctioned if you miss any of your commitments.
What to do if you're struggling financially after universal credit payments have started
If you're already receiving universal credit and you're struggling, there's additional help. Depending on your circumstances, what's available is:
- A budgeting advance
- A hardship payment
- Support from foodbanks and charities
If you're having difficulties, or you've fallen into rental arrears, you can ask for an 'alternative payment arrangement'. You could get one to:
- Have your rent paid directly to your landlord
- Get paid more often than once a month. Payments may be made twice or four times a month
- Split payments if you're part of a couple
It's important to note that asking for any of these changes does NOT guarantee you'll get them. You need to prove that you've a need for the changes to be made – eg, split payments are only offered in special circumstances. It's worth asking if you're struggling and think this can help.
How the extra help works
You can get a budgeting advance if you need help with emergency household costs, for example if you need to replace a cooker. Like an advance payment, you'll pay it back through your universal credit payments, which will be lower until it's paid off.
The smallest amount you can borrow is £100. The maximum amount depends on your circumstances:
- Up to £348 if you're single
- Up to £464 if you're a couple
- Up to £812 if you've children
There are certain criteria you need to meet to qualify for a budgeting advance. You must have been receiving one of the following benefits for six months or more – unless you need the money to get a job or stay in work:
- Universal credit
- Employment and support allowance
- Income support
- Jobseeker's allowance
- State pension credit
You must have earned less than £2,600 in the past six months (or £3,600 if you're part of a couple), and have paid off any previous budgeting advances that you've had.
You must pay back the advance within 12 months. It's interest-free and can be funded by up to 30% of your benefits.
If you're in financial hardship because you've been sanctioned, you can request a hardship payment. This is usually a loan that you can only get if you're struggling to meet your basic needs or those of your children (such as accommodation, heating, food and hygiene costs).
You must be 18 or over to apply, and you need to prove that you've tried to get the money from somewhere else, and that you only spend your money on essentials.
To apply for this, contact the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
If you're in urgent need then you may be able to get vouchers to pay for food, clothing or fuel from your local welfare assistance scheme. Charity Child Poverty Action Group lets you search if your council offers such a scheme.
Your council or Citizens Advice may also be able to direct you to other help available in your area, including foodbanks. The Trussell Trust has a large network of foodbanks – you can search its website for your nearest.
You must pay back the hardship payment within 12 months. It's interest-free and can be funded by up to 30% of your benefits.
If you're renting
In most cases, universal credit is paid directly to claimants. This includes claimants who receive help towards paying their rent.
Paying claimants instead of landlords has made private landlords unwilling to have claimants as tenants as they can't be sure of receiving the rent. But in some circumstances, landlords can request to be paid directly from a tenant's universal credit – see Gov.uk for more.
Payment times have also caused difficulties. Tenants are not eligible for universal credit for the first week of their claim. On top of this, it takes about five weeks for your first universal credit payment to arrive. Some claimants have had to wait, on average, four additional weeks for their first payment but generally the delays have now shortened.
The wait has pushed some tenants into rental arrears. According to research by the Association of Retained Council Housing and the National Federation of Arm's Length Management Organisations, 74% of universal credit households are in arrears compared with 26% of non-universal credit households.
Their research identified factors for this including delays in assessing claims, the wait for arranged payment advances and admin issues.
Falling into rent arrears can lead to your landlord taking you to court and potentially to eviction, so it's not an issue to be taken lightly.
You can ask for:
- Your universal credit more than once a month, and
- For your landlord to be paid directly
If you're homeless or in temporary accommodation for another reason, the DWP says you should claim housing benefit through the council.
If you've a mortgage
If you're at risk of falling behind with your mortgage payments due to universal credit, speak to your lender immediately. It may be that you're able to get a mortgage holiday while you're waiting for your payments, or your lender may be able to give you other help at its discretion.
According to Trussell Trust research, foodbank use increases by an average 52% over the first year after universal credit has been introduced to an area, compared with 13% in non-universal credit areas.
If you're struggling, you might be able to get a budgeting advance to pay for food – speak to your work coach or call the universal credit helpline.
The Government has announced plans to pilot making more frequent payments available to new claimants. If these work, it plans to roll them out further. We can't yet say if and when that will be, but we'll update this guide with news.
It also plans to change payments so they go to the main carer, often a woman, in households. This should start this year, but again, there is no known launch date.
Charity help for debt advice and mental health
There's a number of charities that can help you if you're struggling with debt because of universal credit, or if it has affected your mental health.
- StepChange is a debt charity that can help by offering expert advice.
- National Debtline helps with debt advice.
- Mind helps with mental health and money worries. You can speak to its staff directly on 0300 123 3393 (please note you'll be charged at a local rate if calling from a landline) or email@example.com, or you can see its list of recommended resources where you can get help.
- The Samaritans can offer advice and support for when you're feeling trapped and finding it difficult to see a way forward – you can call it on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mental Health & Money Advice also offers an extensive list of other organisations you can contact. It's divided into mental health resources and money issues resources.
What to do if you think you're not getting the right amount of universal credit
Whether you think your initial entitlement is wrong, or if your entitlement is changed after you start claiming, firstly, contact the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. If a mistake has been made, it should be rectified while you're on the phone.
If this isn't the case, you can appeal against the decision by asking for a 'mandatory reconsideration'. You must do this within one month of the date of your initial entitlement decision. See more info on making a mandatory reconsideration. If you do decide to appeal, make sure you gather supporting evidence before you do so.
Help if your universal credit gets cut unfairly
If you fail to keep to your agreed claimant commitments you could get sanctioned, which is where your benefits get cut. Sanctions can last from a week to up to three years (the average is 31 days), so this can be incredibly damaging to your finances and welfare.
If your benefits have been unfairly cut, here's what you can do:
- As above, you can appeal against the sanction decision with the DWP using a process called 'mandatory reconsideration'.
- To prepare yourself for this appeal, Citizens Advice has a list of arguments you can use to challenge a sanction.
- It also has guidance on checking you've actually received the correct sanction for your circumstances.
- If you receive council tax reduction (also called 'council tax support') and get a sanction, contact your council immediately. It'll tell you what to do to continue getting support.
Avoid getting repeat cuts
Sanctions can be more severe if you've been previously sanctioned. Here are some tips on helping you avoid being sanctioned again.
If you've been sanctioned because you struggled to stick to your claimant commitment, it could be time to review it.
Contact the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 9344 to explain why you'd like to alter it and mention any changes in your personal circumstances that you feel could have had an impact.
You could also ask for an appointment with your work coach to discuss it.
As soon as you know you're not going to be able to attend a Jobcentre appointment, contact it to let it know in advance.
Make sure you keep a note of the time, date and who you spoke to, and explain your reasons.
If it's the cost of getting to the Jobcentre that's prohibitive, it may be able to help you with travel costs if you ask.
While keeping a diary can be a bit of a slog, it could be worth it as evidence if you run into any issues.
Keep a note of whenever you do something that's in your claimant commitment – such as applying for a job – as well as the date you did it and how long you spent on it.
If you have a valid reason for not doing anything in your commitment, try to get evidence of it, eg, if you're ill then try to get a doctor's note.
Then, in future, you can always present your diary as evidence if you need to.
If anything in your personal circumstances changes, eg, you get a new job or you move in with a partner, ensure you let the benefit office know straightaway.
You can do this by calling the free universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm). As it can cost up to 9p/minute from a landline or 40p/minute from a mobile phone, you can call and request a callback to save some money.
Where can I find more information?
If you have questions on universal credit that aren't answered here, many other organisations and charities offer guidance and advice. Here are just a few that you may find useful, and please let us know in our forum discussion thread if you find any others that help you.
- Turn2Us: Help with benefits, searching for grants and accessing support services.
- Entitledto: As well as providing free benefits calculators, it has tons of guidance on benefits.
- Citizens Advice: Guidance for all aspects of universal credit.
- Gingerbread: Primarily aimed at single parent families.
- Christians Against Poverty: Help with debt, finding work and free courses to get control of your finances.
- Turn2Us: Help with benefits, searching for grants and accessing support services.
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