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Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits

Universal credit, jobseeker's allowance plus other benefits that can help

Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live. It's an anxious and upsetting time, especially as it's now been more than a year since the crisis began. This guide looks at which benefits you may be able to claim – with many available alongside other government support. You can also check the benefits you're entitled to by using our 10-minute Benefits Calculator

Important: The info below is the best we have currently, but as this is a fast-changing situation we're updating this guide all the time. If you've a question not covered below or in our other coronavirus guides, please email it to us (we can't respond to each question but we'll try to add answers in these guides).

Looking for other coronavirus help? This guide has info about benefits. Also see:

Plus we've specific help on: Wedding cancellation rights | Ryanair refunds | Discounts for NHS staff | WFH tax reclaiming | Payment holidays

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Income hit by coronavirus? You may be able to claim universal credit

If you're unemployed, have been made redundant, off work due to sickness, or on a low income, you could be eligible for universal credit, a means-tested benefit to help you meet your basic living costs. You could work for an employer, or be self-employed and still apply. 

Last year the Government increased the universal credit standard allowance by £20 a week in response to the coronavirus pandemic - eg, from £317.82 to £409.89 for single people aged 25 or over - this was set to end on 6 April but has now been extended until the end of September. It's also removed the 'minimum income floor' to help self-employed people whose income has fallen (this has now been extended until end of July), and increased the allowance for private renters who need help with housing costs.

Below is a summary of who can claim, how much you can get and how to apply. If you understand how universal credit works and just want to check if you're likely to be accepted for universal credit then use our 10-minute Benefits Calculator. Alternatively, if you want the full lowdown on the ins and outs of universal credit, visit our dedicated Universal Credit guide.

Who can claim universal credit?

You might be able to claim universal credit if:

  • You're out of work, on a low income or have 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 credit, child tax credit, income support, housing benefit – and your circumstances have changed.

If you have more than £16,000 in savings you'll get nowt 

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. If you have more than £6,000 in savings you'll get less universal credit and if you've savings of £16,000 or over, you won't be eligible for universal credit at all.

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.

WARNING: If you currently receive means-tested benefits, such as working tax credit, but are thinking of applying for universal credit, check if you'll be better off before you do so. Your existing payments will stop as soon as you apply.

Universal credit replaces these benefits and you will NOT be able to go back on to those benefits in future (you may of course remain entitled to some UC). For more, see our Will I be better off switching to universal credit? analysis below.

illustration

How much could I get?

Everyone gets a standard allowance, based on age and whether you're single or in a couple. But there are extra payments you could get based on what your extra needs are. 

The standard allowance £20 a week uplift has been extended 

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Government increased the universal credit standard allowance by £20 a week. This boost was set to expire in April 2021 but has now been extended by six months to the end of September. The continued uplift applies to all new and existing claimants across England, Scotland and Wales, while funding has been made available to the Northern Ireland Executive to match this uplift. 

Here's a table outlining what the standard allowance is (remember many will qualify for more than the standard allowance - scroll past the table for details). Don't forget it's quick and simple to see how much you could get with our 10-minute Benefits Calculator.

Universal Credit Standard Allowance

 

Your circumstances Current monthly allowance - including the £20/wk uplift  Monthly allowance from 1 October 2021 

Single and under 25

£342.72

£257.33

Single and 25 or over

£409.89

£324.84

In a couple and both under 25

£488.59 per couple

£403.93

In a couple and either of you is 25 or over

£594.04 per couple

£509.91

What extra payments could I get? 

In addition, universal credit offers some people extra help - whether you're eligible and how much you can get are down to your personal circumstances but it could amount to £100s or even £1,000s each month. This is for:

  • Housing costs. Mainly for claimants who rent (although some help is available for those with a mortgage), what you can get is determined by where you live and how many people are in your household. Full lowdown: How much the rate is for my area? 
  • Costs relating to children. Depending on how many children you have and when they were born, the amount you can get will vary, but it's around £230/month per child. See more: How much help can I get for my children? 
  • Help if you have a sickness or disability that prevents you from working. The amount you can get depends on the severity of your illness or disability, but can be up to £340/month. Full info: What help can I get if I have a disability? 
  • If you have other caring responsibilities, you might be entitled to extra help. If you're a carer for someone in your household for 35 hours a week, you can get around an extra £160/month. Further help in: What help can I get if I'm a carer? 

How much can I earn and still qualify for universal credit?

This is where it gets complicated as there is NO FIXED AMOUNT YOU CAN EARN BEFORE YOU CAN GET UNIVERSAL CREDIT. It all depends on your personal situation. So unless two claimants have identical sets of circumstances they will receive different entitlements and be able to earn different amounts of money before their entitlement is eliminated. 

Even though there are no strict thresholds, there are some clear principles: 

  • As your income increases, your payment will reduce.
  • It will keep reducing until you're earning enough to no longer claim universal credit.
  • If your earnings decrease after this, you can claim universal credit again.
  • It's not just YOUR income that's taken into account, it's your household income. If your partner is a high earner (and it doesn't matter if you're married or not, as long as you live together) it's likely you won't be eligible to claim universal credit.

Want the FULL lowdown on how much you can get? 

Our Universal Credit guide has all the ins and outs of who qualifies, how much you can get, and answers the most common curly questions around all the various rules and exclusions. 

Is universal credit the same in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? 

England, Wales and Scotland follow the same guidelines. Scotland has some extra flexibility when it comes to receiving the payments, known as 'Scottish choices'.This means you can choose to be paid monthly or fortnightly, and if you get an extra housing payment you can choose to get it in your bank account or paid directly to your landlord.

In Northern Ireland, it's a slightly different system and it's normally paid twice a month, though you can choose to be paid monthly. Find out more on the NIdirect website.

Self-employed? The minimum income floor suspension has been extended until the end of July

On 6 April 2020, the 'minimum income floor' was temporarily suspended and it remains suspended today. In the Budget on 3 March, the Chancellor announced that it will remain suspended until the end of July 2021 (it was meant to be reintroduced at the end of April). After that, he said it would be 'gradually reintroduced'. Yet DWP work coaches will be given the discretion whether to apply it after that on a case-by-case basis. 

What is the 'minimum income floor'? 

The minimum income floor is an amount that the DWP assumes you earn if you're self-employed. It is caluculated using the minimum wage for your age - for full info see how is the minimum income floor actually calculated?

Your universal credit is then awarded on the basis that you are earning this minimum amount, so it's not boosted if your actual earnings fall well below this. If you earn ABOVE the floor, there's no issue – you'll be assessed on your actual income.

What does the suspension of the minimum income floor mean? 

Without the minimum income floor in place, you can earn less than this, and the amount of universal credit you get will be boosted accordingly. Here's an example:

  • A 40-year-old self-employed musician, who didn't qualify for help under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, started claiming universal credit in April 2020 after coronavirus restrictions disrupted his income. 

  • At the moment he is only able to earn about £200/mth due to reduced demand. His universal credit payments are based on this amount. As he is a homeowner, lives alone and doesn't have any children, at the moment he gets £283.89/mth in universal credit. 

  • But if the minimum income floor is brought back in, his universal credit payments would be calculated as if he were earning his minimum income floor amount. This could be about £1,200/mth for someone in his situation (though exact amounts will vary) – even though his actual income is only a fraction of this. 

  • As a result, he would no longer be entitled to claim universal credit, leaving him almost £300/mth WORSE OFF.  For more on how it's calculated, see our Universal Credit guide.

How to apply for universal credit 

The quickest way to claim universal credit is online

If you are part of a couple and living in the same household, you will need to make a joint claim. You will receive a single monthly payment for your whole household.

If you have no access to digital services or have accessibility issues, you can call the free universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. You can also contact the helpline 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. Need help? Citizens Advice also assists universal credit applicants.

How long will it take to get paid?

It takes around five weeks from the date you submit your claim to your first payment. 

Quick questions on universal credit

  • The following benefits will be taken into account:

    • Bereavement allowance
    • Carer's allowance
    • Employment and support allowance (new style)
    • Incapacity benefit
    • Industrial injuries disablement benefit
    • Jobseeker's allowance (new style)
    • Maternity allowance

    These benefits are not taken into account: 

    • Child benefit
    • Disability living allowance
    • Income from boarders and lodgers
    • Maintenance payments
    • Personal independence payment
  • These will count as savings or capital...

    • Regular savings in your bank account
    • Fixed-term savings
    • ISAs – including LISAs, stocks & shares ISAs
    • If you've taken your private pension as a lump sum before state pension age
    • Redundancy pay 
    • Stocks or shares
    • Property you don't live in

    These won't count as savings or capital...

    • A pension pot that hasn't yet been drawn down
    • Pension income – this counts as income
    • Junior ISAs – money you have already given to your children

     

  • If you or your partner have savings or capital of between £6,000 and £16,000, the first £6,000 is ignored. The rest is treated as if it gives you a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250, or part of £250.

    Example:

    You and your partner each have £4,000 in separate savings accounts, so combined savings of £8,000. The first £6,000 is ignored. The remaining £2,000 is counted as giving you a monthly income of £34.80

    £2,000 ÷ £250 = 8

    8 × £4.35 = £34.80

    £34.80 will be taken off your monthly universal credit payment.

  • No. The Department for Work and Pensions only counts two people as being in a couple if they live in the same household and are:

    • Married
    • Civil partners
    • Living together as if married

    If you are in a couple and you meet the criteria above, you and your partner will need to make a joint claim for universal credit. This means the Government will assess what you need as a couple against what you have as a couple and award you accordingly.

  • £500 income support payment - No

    The payment won't affect your universal credit amount. The DWP has confirmed that the payment will be 'disregarded' for benefits purposes, but you will still need to log it as a payment in your online journal. 

    Self-employed income support scheme - Yes

    Yes. These payments count as income and can reduce your payments. However, if you have legitimate business expenses, you can use your SEISS payments towards these and only the remaining money counts as income. 

    Furlough pay - Yes

    Yes. Furlough payments are just like your regular income (albeit slightly lower), so if you earn more than your work allowance, your universal credit will likely reduce. 

    Bounce back loans - No

    This loan would be considered a business asset and wouldn't count as income or personal capital, so wouldn't affect your universal credit payment.

  • If you switch to universal credit from any of the following, your current benefit will stop and you will NOT be able to switch back:

    • Child tax credit
    • Housing benefit
    • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    • Income-related employment and support allowance
    • Income support
    • Working tax credit

    However, at the end of July 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions introduced an extra payment for people claiming income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or income support who choose to move over to universal credit. 

    If you currently claim any of these benefits and switch over to universal credit, you will now receive a new, additional payment, worth up to two weeks of your old benefit. 

    The one-time 'run-on' payment does not need to be paid back, and will be paid automatically to eligible claimants when they claim universal credit for the first time. It will not affect the amount of universal credit you receive.

    Housing benefit claimants already receive a run-on payment. 

    Important: If you currently receive working tax credit or child tax credit, and you switch to universal credit, you will NOT receive a run-on payment. 

    Not sure whether you'll be better off switching? Use our free Benefits Calculator to work out what you're entitled to – that way you can see if you're going to be better or worse off.

  • Claiming universal credit due to coronavirus but now going back to work? Tell the Department for Work and Pensions

    If you or your partner are now returning to work or have found new employment, you need to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). You can do so by updating the details in your online universal credit journal. Bear in mind the following:

    • As your income increases, your universal credit payment will reduce.
    • It will keep reducing until you're earning enough to no longer claim universal credit.
    • Tell the DWP that you're now working but don't just cancel your claim. If you just cancel, you risk missing out on your final payment. For more, see 'When should I cancel my claim?' below.
    • If your earnings decrease again, you can claim universal credit again.
    • Remember it's not just YOUR income that's taken into account, it's your household income. If your partner is going back to work (and it doesn't matter if you're married or not, as long as you live together), this will affect your universal credit claim.

    Here's an example to help.

    Imagine your assessment period runs from 5 August to 4 September and you're paid your universal credit on 11 September. You've just got a new job and started work on 20 August, BUT you won't actually get paid until 30 September.

    If you contact the DWP and cancel your universal credit claim on 20 August (instead of just telling it that you're now working), you won't get universal credit for ANY of the period from 5 August to 4 September. The DWP doesn't make part-month payments.

    As you've no earnings in that period up to 4 September, you will still be entitled to your usual universal credit, paid to you on 11 September. It isn't until you've been paid by your employer on 30 September that your universal credit for 5 September to 4 October will be reduced or stopped.

If told to self-isolate and unable to work in Eng, those on low incomes qualify for a £500 'Test & Trace' payment

If you receive certain means-tested benefits, and you have to self-isolate, but you're unable to work from home and so lose income, you're eligible for a payment of £500 for each period of 10-day self-isolation (cut from 14 days on 14 December 2020) you're required to undertake. 

How much can I get? 

Since 28 September 2020, each time an eligible person is told to self-isolate by 'Test and Trace' – the NHS service set up to combat Covid-19 by tracking down those who may have come into contact with the virus – they will be able to claim £500 for the time they have to self-isolate.

It's not a one-off payment, meaning you can claim it EVERYTIME you have to self-isolate. In January the Government announced that the scheme will run until at least the end of March. A word of warning though, MSE has reported that some local authorities have run out of funds, and found at least five have stopped offering payments

Am I eligible?

  • In most cases you must receive one of the following benefits: universal credit, working tax credit, income-based employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income support, housing benefit or pension credit. 
  • Councils have discretion to make payments to those who don't receive the qualifying benefits. But only for those on a low income who could suffer financial hardship as a result of not being able to work.
  • You must have a notification from the NHS Test and Trace Scheme asking you to self-isolate. This can be because you've tested postive for Covid-19 or if you've recently been in contact with someone who has tested positive. It'll include a unique ID number. 
  • You'll need proof of your employment. Plus, confirmation from your employer that you're unable to work from home. 
  • If you're self-employed, you will need to show evidence of self-assessment tax returns. Plus, proof that you cannot run your business without social contact. 
  • If you're the parent or guardian of a child who's been told to self-isolate. If this is the case, you could be eligible to the £500 payment as long as you meet the above criteria and ALL of the following:
    - You need to take time off work to care for your child who is self-isolating.
    - Your child is aged 15 or under (or aged 25 or under with an Education, Health and Care Plan) and normally attends an education or childcare setting.
    - You're unable to work from home and will lose income because you have to care for your child.

How to claim 

  • The grants will be administered by local authorities.
  • As soon as you get the notification to self-isolate, you'll need to contact your local authority, online or by phone. It is then up to individual councils to make payments as quickly as possible. 
  • Not sure how to contact your local authority? Here's the council website checker.

I was notified to self-isolate via the "test and trace" app, how can I get it?

  • People in England and Wales who are instructed to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app can claim a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment. It was initially only England, but from 1 February, people in Wales can now claim too. 
  • At the point you receive a notification to self-isolate from the app a ‘Financial support’ button will appear. This will be visible for the isolation period only.
  • Select this button, and you'll be taken out of the app to a Government Gateway web page.
  • You'll be asked to select whether you live in Wales or England. 

Need to knows

  • The payment won't affect your benefits. The DWP has confirmed that the payment will be 'disregarded' for benefits purposes, but you will still need to log it as a payment in your online journal. 
  • The payments are subject to income tax, but not subject to national insurance contributions. 
  • Anyone who qualifies for this payment will receive it on top of any statutory sick pay they are entitled to.  
  • You can only claim if you have been told to self-isolate, unfortunately if you need to care for a child who needs to stay home from school, you can't claim this payment. 

What if I'm in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

Scotland: If you're told to self-isolate through the 'Test and Protect' service and you're on certain means-tested benefits, you can apply for a £500 self-isolation support grant, which is administered via local authorities. You can see more information on the Scottish Government website

Wales: If you're told to self-isolate through the 'Test, Trace, Protect' service and you're on the same means-tested benefits as those in England, can also apply for the £500 self-isolation support grant, which is administered via local authorities. You need to apply for the payments via your local authority website

Northern Ireland: Here, financial support is available through the Department for Communities Discretionary Support scheme, if you're diagnosed with Covid-19 or advised to self-isolate under public health guidelines. It includes a non-repayable Covid-19 'living expenses grant' as well as a specific amount for any children in the household, and may be made for longer periods. You can find more information on the NIdirect website

I've been told to self-isolate under contact tracing, how much statutory sick pay can I get?

If you've been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, you may be told to self-isolate for 10 days. If so, and you're an employee and you can't work from home, you might be due statutory sick pay (SSP), which can be paid in addition to the £500 grants discussed above. 

Here's what you need to know:

If you earn at least £120+/wk: You can claim SSP of £96.35/wk from day one of self-isolation – though if your work normally offers more generous sick pay, you may be able to get that. If you then develop Covid-19 symptoms you can continue to get SSP for 28 weeks.  

SSP is paid through your employer, so you must notify it. For more information, see statutory sick pay

If you earn under £120/wk: If you already claim universal credit, log in to your online journal, update your details and your universal credit award should be boosted in line with your drop in earnings. If you're not already claiming, apply for universal credit and if you need cash urgently, request an advance payment.    

SSP is only for employees – if you're self-employed and you can't operate your business from home, and it's disrupted, you can apply for universal credit, though what (if anything) you get depends on your costs, savings and income. 

Are you 'clinically extremely vulnerable'?

Currently in England those considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable' are being advised to shield and not travel into the workplace (you should've been informed by the NHS or your GP if you're in this category).

If you're an employee and you fall into these two categories, and you're unable to work from home, you might be eligible for SSP. In the first instance though, it's worth asking whether your employer will put you on furlough.

Employment and support allowance (ESA)

Employment and support allowance is a benefit that gives you money to help with living costs if you cannot work due to a health condition or disability. You can also apply at present if you're directly affected by coronavirus, caring for a child who is ill with coronavirus, or self-isolating according to Government advice - though these provisions may change at short notice. 

You can get over £100 per week but the most recent statistics reveal that more than 200,000 eligible people aren't claiming - amounting to nearly £1bn per year in lost benefits.

While most people claim the "new style" ESA, it's worth noting there are two types of "old style ESA" that some people are still getting. These are "income-based ESA" and "contribution-based ESA", some people may still be getting income-related ESA, but that is being replaced by universal credit and there are no new claims. 

How much can I get? 

You can get up to £114.10 per week, paid every two weeks, depending on your age and whether after assessment you're deemed to be able to work in the future. 

  • You'll spend up to 13 weeks on an "assessment rate" when you first apply for the benefit. If you're under 25, this rate is £59.20 per week and if you're over 25, it's £74.20 per week. If the assessment takes longer than 13 weeks, you will remain on this rate but any increase (see below) will be backdated to the 14th week of your claim. 
     
  • After your assessment you'll be placed in one of three groups based on your ability to get back into work. They are as follows:

    - If you are found immediately fit for work - your ESA claim will be declined. Instead, you will need to claim jobseeker's allowance or universal credit as someone who is unemployed, until you appeal.
    - If you're unfit for work but able to undertake work-related activity such as going on courses - you'll get some ESA payments but not the max. You'll get a rate of £74.10 per week but only for one year.
    - If you are unfit for work and unfit for work-related activity as well - you will get the max ESA payment. This is £114.10 per week for as long as you you remain in that category. 

  • Payments are made fortnightly in arrears. After you first apply, you should receive your first payment at the assessment rate after two weeks. Then you'll continue at the assessment rate until you're placed in one of the three groups. But don't worry - if you're found to be fit for work, the money you receive while on the assessment rate is NOT repayable.  

Am I eligible? 

To be eligible, you must have paid enough national insurance (NI) contributions in the last two to three years (see full eligibility criteria – national insurance credits also count). 

  •  You can earn up to £140 a week without ESA being affected, but only if you are doing 'permitted work' of less than 16 hours a week. 

  • The amount won't be affected by you or your partner's savings or income, though if you get a private pension worth more than £85 per week it'll be reduced.

  •  You can get ESA if you're self-employed – the application process is the same.

  • To find out whether you have paid enough NI contributions you can contact HMRC on 0300 200 3500 (or 0300 200 3519 if you have a speech or hearing impairment). 

I am getting statutory sick pay, can I also get employment support allowance? 

  • No. You can't get it alongside statutory sick pay, maternity pay or jobseeker's allowance. However, universal credit can be claimed as a top-up to it. If your ESA stops after a year - if you're in the "work-related group" - you may then need to claim just universal credit instead.  

  • Even though you can't get statutory sick pay (SSP) and ESA at the same time, you can start your ESA claim up to three months before your SSP ends. It's worth claiming ESA early so your payments start as soon as possible.

How to apply

You can apply online for new style ESA on Gov.uk. You’ll be asked some questions first to make sure you’re eligible. If you are, you’ll be asked to fill in an online form. You'll need your national insurance number and bank account details. 

  • As part of its response to the pandemic, the Government has changed the rules so you're eligible to claim from the first day of sickness/self-isolation rather than the eighth, as was the case previously. The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that these changes will be extended until end of May 2021. 

  • The DWP will contact you within 10 working days notifying you of your eligibility. If you're eligible you'll get details to schedule a phone appointment with a job centre job coach. 

Working tax credit

Working tax credit is money provided to boost the income of working people who are on a low income. 

How much can I get? 

As part of measures to provide support during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government increased the basic element of working tax credit by £1,040/yr (£20/wk) to £3,040/yr. This was temporary and only for 2020//21 tax year. For 2021/22 the basic rate will be £2,005. 

On top of the basic amount, depending on your circumstances, you can get extra amounts. These are: 

  • Couples applying together: up to £2,060 a year
  • If you work at least 30 hours a week: Up to £830 a year
  • If you have a disability: up to £3,240 a year
  • You have a severe disability: up to £1,400 a year (usually on top of disability payments)

Payments are means-tested, so the more you earn, the less you receive. While there's no set limit for income, working tax credit is mainly for families earning roughly under £46,000 a year. 

One-off £500 payment for working tax credit claimants 

The state has made a one-off payment of £500 to eligible working tax credit claimants.This was to provide continued extra support over the next six months, similar to the uplift that those who receive universal credit get with their extra £20 a week. Here's how it works:

  • This applies to ALL claimants across the UK who were in receipt of working tax credit as of 2 March 2021.
  • You won't need to claim the payment, it'll be paid automatically in to the account where you receive your working tax credit. 
  • The Government has confirmed that technically current working tax credit claimants who switch to universal credit may be eligible to get both the £500 payment and the £20 uplift after they've switched – but if you do this you can't switch back to working tax credit, so it's crucial you ensure universal credit is best for you first. Use our Benefits Calculator for help.
  • If you didn't get your payment by 23 April and you think you should have, you'll need to sign into your account with your Government Gateway and contact HMRC. 

Am I eligible? 

  • The only people still eligible to make a new claim for working tax credit are those who receive the 'severe disability premium', or those who have stopped receiving it in the past month but remain eligible for it.

  • To qualify for working tax credit, normally you must work a certain number of hours: at least 30 hours if you're aged 25-59, or 16 hours if you're 60+, disabled or single with one or more children. 

How to apply

You are no longer able to make a new claim for tax credits, unless you receive a Severe Disability Premium (SDP). In most cases, if you want to make a new claim, you will need to claim universal credit instead. You may also need to claim universal credit if you experience a change in circumstances.

The Government has confirmed that if you can't work your normal hours because of coronavirus, you will still receive your usual tax credit payments. This means if you're working reduced hours due to coronavirus or you've been furloughed, your payments will not be affected as long as you are still employed or self-employed.

You don't need to contact HMRC about this change. You will be treated as working your normal hours until the Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme close, even if you are not using either scheme.

Will I be better off switching to universal credit?

Most people will receive a similar amount on universal credit – within £100 a year of what they would get under the old 'legacy' system. But a few will be £1,000s a year better or worse off. You can use our free Benefits Calculator to work out what you're entitled to – that way you can see if you're going to be better or worse off.

Who is likely to be better off?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that those in work, who live in expensive cities such as London and who pay rent to private landlords are most likely to gain. Around one in three such claimants, it estimates, will see an increase in entitlement of at least £1,000 a year.

Who could be worse off?

Of the claimants who could stand to lose £1,000 a year or more, most are affected by universal credit's harsher treatment of those with savings. If you have savings or capital of more than £6,000 up to £16,000, your universal credit award will reduce – anything over £16,000 and you will not get any universal credit. Meanwhile, savings or capital AREN'T taken into account if you receive working tax credit. 

So if you are thinking of making a new universal credit claim, try to get advice from a benefits specialist if you can. Also use our free Benefits Calculator to work out what you're entitled to – that way you can see if you're going to be better or worse off. You don't want to miss out on the help you need now, by failing to claim, but you do need to be aware of possible consequences – and once you make the switch you can't reverse the decision.

Here are a couple of important points to consider:

  • Moving from housing benefit to universal credit? You will continue to get housing benefit for two weeks after your new universal credit claim starts. This is to reduce the risk of rent arrears.

  • Lost your job but got your final pay after you applied for universal credit? Don't be shocked if you get a decision saying your first universal credit award is £0. It just means your final month's pay has taken you out of eligibility. While you won't get any money for the first month, as long as you update your earnings each month in your journal, your universal credit will be adjusted to reflect your new earnings.

What else do I need to know? 

It's not just the amount of support you receive that varies. Some of the overall rules may be different, including how long it takes to receive the benefit after starting a claim and the frequency of your payments. Many older benefits are weekly or fortnightly, as well as monthly, while universal credit is one monthly payment. Also the commitments you need to agree to in order to remain eligible are different.

Jobseeker's allowance

If you're out of work, you might be entitled to claim jobseeker's allowance (JSA). It's a flat-rate state benefit you can claim if you're unemployed (not on furlough). There are three types of JSA:

  • 'New-style' JSA. This is the main type of JSA generally available to new claimants. 
  • 'Income-based' JSA. This has largely been replaced by universal credit for new claims.
  • 'Old-style' contributory JSA. It's only available to a small number of people who have been recently receiving a means-tested benefit and are severely disabled.

How much can I get?

How much you get depends on your age:

  • £59.20 a week if you're under 25
  • £74.70 a week if you're over 25

Note: You are not paid for the first seven days of your claim and will be paid for a maximum of 182 days (about six months), after which your payments will stop.

Am I eligible? 

If you were recently working as an employee (ie, not self-employed) and lost your job due to coronavirus, you will likely be eligible for 'new-style' JSA. 

  • Eligibility is based on whether you've paid enough class 1 national insurance contributions in the last two to three years as an employee. Self-employment contributions don't count.

  • It is NOT means-tested. This means it makes no allowances for extra costs such as children or rent and your savings and partner's savings or income don't count either. This can make it a better option than universal credit for some people, eg, if you have too much in savings to be eligible for universal credit.

  • Savings/capital DO NOT affect your entitlement. But any pensions paid to you over £50 a week (unless paid to you as a survivor) will reduce your JSA.  

How to apply

Apply on the Gov.uk site. You'll need your national insurance number, bank account details, employment details (ie P45) and a private pension statement letter, if you have one. 

As a result of coronavirus, most face-to-face assessments have been suspended (apart from for those who are vulnerable). Your 'work coach' – who's tasked with helping you find employment – might ask you to look for work or be available for work but will contact you via phone or online. 

Quick questions about JSA

  • Yes, but it's deducted at a rate of £1 for £1 from your overall universal credit entitlement. Essentially the 'standard allowance' part of universal credit and JSA are designed to give you the same help, so this part of universal credit is 'either/or'.

    So if you're not entitled to any extra elements of universal credit such as housing or childcare, you wouldn't get universal credit and JSA. But if you're also entitled to housing, disability or childcare help, you can get those parts alongside your JSA amount. 

     

     

  • For claimants who don't meet the criteria for new-style JSA there is income-based JSA. 

    This has now been replaced by universal credit for new claims except as a top-up in a very small number of old-style contributory JSA claims. 

    If you've been on income-based JSA for some time (pre-dating universal credit) you could voluntarily switch to universal credit to take advantage of the higher rate of that benefit, and the fact you can earn slightly more while receiving universal credit. However, you need to bear in mind that any help you currently also get with children and rent through other benefits would be incorporated into the universal credit too.

  • To be eligible for JSA you need to show that you've recently been in regular, paid work – to find this out, the Government looks at your national insurance (NI) record.  

    For all new claims, it looks at your NI contributions for the two previous completed tax years. So for new claims made this year (2021/22), it will look at your NI record as an employee in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 tax years. 

    From this, you need to meet two sets of criteria: 

    1. You must have paid NI in at least 26 separate weeks in one of the tax years above, and earned over £113 a week in 2019/20 or £116 a week in 2020/21 in the weeks you worked. The amounts are different because they change every year.

    2. You must also have paid NI on total earnings above £5,650 in 2019/20 and £5,800 in 2020/21. 

    Examples:

    Jerry Jobseeker worked 40 weeks in only one of those years, earning £120 a week, so he would meet the first test but fail the second test.

    Jenny Jobshunter only worked 12 weeks in one year and earned £6,000, so she'd meet the second test but not the first one.

You MUST report a change in circumstances 

  • Your claim could be stopped or reduced if you do not report a change straightaway. 
  • Changes include starting a new job, training or an apprenticeship, changes to your income, moving house, changing your name, and going abroad. 
  • You MUST tell the Jobcentre if your employer has put you on furlough (ie, still paying you even though you have been told not to work). 
  • You may be prosecuted or have to pay a £50 fine if you give the wrong or incomplete information or do not report changes straightaway.
  • How to report: Call the JSA helpline on 0800 169 0310, textphone on 0800 169 0314, or Welsh language on 0800 328 1744.
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Are there any other benefits that I can claim?

There are several other benefits you might be eligible to.

Child benefit

Child benefit is a monthly payment for anyone with parental responsibilities for children under the age of 16.

How much can I get? 

The full amount is £21.05/week for your first child and £13.95/week for each additional child. It's paid every four weeks and depending on how many children you have, it can really add up.

Am I eligible? 

  • Everyone with parental responsibilities for children under 16 is eligible. But if you earn over £50,000 the benefit is tapered. You will be required to pay back (via a self-assessment tax return) 1% of your family's child benefit for every extra £100 you earn over £50,000.
     
  • Once you hit £60,000, you'll then need to pay back 100% of your entitlement via a tax return, meaning essentially you won't get any benefit.

How to apply

To make a claim, fill in the CH2 claim form and send it to the child benefit office. The address is on the form. If your child is adopted, send their original adoption certificate with the form. You can order a new adoption certificate if you've lost the original.

If you've already registered for (and opted out of) the benefit previously, claiming only involves a quick phone call – make sure you have your national insurance number to hand. For those new to claiming, it's just one form to fill in.

Need to knows

  • If you've been made redundant, or put on furlough, and your salary has subsequently dropped, you may now be entitled to claim child benefit. 

  • If you haven't previously applied for the benefit or you've just had a baby and want to claim, you can do so as soon as you've registered the birth of your child, or they come to live with you if you've adopted them. If you've not been able to register the birth due to coronavirus, you can still make a claim – see 'Had a baby recently?' below.

  • It is calculated on 'adjusted' net income for a full tax year. So if you had four months of no pay, for example, on a £70,000 salary, you'll have an average income below £50,000 over the tax year. This means you'd be eligible for child benefit for that WHOLE tax year. If you've been furloughed you may have to do some maths to consider the overall average for the year to determine if you are below the threshold.

  • You may have filled in a 'CH2' child benefit form and opted out previously when your salary was higher, to protect your state pension (for more on this, see our MSE News story). In this case, you'll simply need to call the child benefit helpline on 0300 200 3100 and ask now to opt in.

  • It can take up to 12 weeks to process a new claim, but the claim can be backdated for up to three months. So if you call to claim the benefit now, but were made redundant a month ago, you can claim from the date you were made redundant.

  • For full information on how to claim, see our Child Benefit guide.

Going back to work? Contact the child benefit helpline

If and when you go back to work and your salary is back up to 100%, if this pushes you over the £60,000 threshold, make sure you contact the child benefit helpline to say you want to opt out again to avoid having to pay any money back later (or if it's between £50,000 and £60,000, keep a tab on how much you will have to pay back).

The child benefit helpline number is: 0300 200 3100 (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone, dial 18001 then 0300 200 3100 to use the NGT text relay).

 

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Had a baby recently?

Normally you have to go in person to register your baby's birth and provide a birth certificate with your child benefit claim. But now you just need to tell HM Revenue & Customs when applying that you haven't been able to register your baby's birth due to coronavirus. For a full rundown of what to do, see our help on claiming child benefit for newborns.

Free school meals 

With many people having their income hit by coronavirus and claiming benefits for the first time, you may not be aware that your child – whether you are their parent or guardian or not – could be entitled to free school meals. (This isn't to be confused with 'universal infant free school meals', available to all schoolchildren from reception to year two.) Pupils entitled to free school meals will still get them while schools are closed - contact your school for more details.

Am I eligible? 

If your child is in year three or above, they will typically be able to get free school meals if you fulfill the criteria in the following two steps: 

Step 1. You are claiming one of these benefits:

  • Child tax credit 
  • The 'guaranteed element' of pension credit
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income support
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Universal credit 
  • Working tax credit/working tax credit run-on (1) 

(1) Working tax credit is only taken into account in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England and Wales you can't get free school meals if you get working tax credit – you can only qualify with the 'working tax credit run-on'. 

Step 2. You are earning below a certain amount (these are different depending on where you live): 

England

  • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £7,400/year (in total earnings). 
  • If you receive child tax credit (but not working tax credit), you can earn up to £16,190/year.

Scotland

  • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £610/month. 
  • If you receive child tax credit (but not working tax credit), you can earn up to £16,105/year.
  • If you receive BOTH working tax credit and child tax credit, you can earn up to £7,330/year. 

Northern Ireland

  • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £14,000/year. 
  • If you receive child tax credit or working tax credit, you can earn up to £16,190/year.

Wales

  • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £7,400/year.
  • If you receive child tax credit (but not working tax credit), you can earn up to £16,190/year.

How to apply

Free school meals are run by the Department for Education and administered via councils. You need to register via your council, then you and your child's school will be notified of your application.

You must wait until you've had your first universal credit payment before applying for free school meals.

For people in England there is a free checker, which should link through to your council's free school meals registration page. We tested this and often were only sent to the council's main homepage – if this is the case, search 'free school meals' in your council's search bar. 

You will need: your name, date of birth and home address, details about your qualifying benefit claim – you'll be told what evidence you need to submit. Your child's/children's details and school name(s). Here's how to apply in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales

You might also be able to get extra help with food and bills under the new Covid Winter Grant Scheme. It's run by councils, with many offering extra help for families who get free school meals. Check with your council to see what you could get. 

Universal infant free school meals

If your child is in a government-funded school you can get "universal infant free school meals" regardless of your income in reception, year 1, and year 2 (Scotland P1 - P3). 

New. Scotland universal infant free school meals to be extended to Primary 4 and 5 children

  • From August 2021 all children in Primary 4 will be entitled to universal infant free school meals.
  • From January 2022 all children in Primary 5 will be entitled to universal infant free school meals.
  • For more information visit Gov.scot or contact your child's school.  

Help with funeral costs - the funeral expenses payment

The death of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most stressful and emotional times you can experience. And for some of us, it can also bring extra financial worry. But there is help available with funeral costs and financial support for up to 18 months after your bereavement. Below you'll find the main areas of support available, who's eligible and what you could get. For more detailed information, go to our What to do when someone dies guide. 

If you're on certain benefits, such as universal credit, child tax credit or pension credit, you could receive what's called "the funeral expenses payment". There are two elements to this support:

1. Help with more expensive, essential aspects of a funeral

This can include costs for things such as cremation fees, including the fee for the doctor's certificate, travel arrangements to the funeral, the cost of moving the body within the UK (more than 50 miles), burial fees for a particular plot and death certificates or other documents

How much can I get? There is no limit to the amount of money you can get but it depends on what the costs are, your circumstances and those of the deceased. It's important to note that this is not strictly a grant – if the deceased person had assets, such as savings or property, the state will claw back the payment from that. However, if there aren't any assets, you will not be asked to repay it from your own money.

2. Help with smaller funeral costs 

This can include costs such as funeral directors' fees, the coffin or flowers etc. To claim, you can keep your receipts and apply for reimbursement of up to £1,000 – an amount increased from £700 in April 2020. 

How to apply

You must apply within six months of the funeral, even if you're waiting for a decision on whether you'll receive a benefit that would qualify you for the funeral expenses payment. You can make a claim before the funeral if you've got an invoice or signed contract from the funeral director. You'll need to fill in a claim form, which you can download from the Gov.uk website.

If approved, the funeral expenses payment is paid into your bank, building society or credit union account if you've already paid for the funeral. The money will be paid directly to the organiser of the funeral (for example, the funeral director) if you haven't paid yet.

Bereavement support

If your husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017, you could be entitled to a benefit known as the bereavement support payment. The payment is normally a lump sum, followed by 18 monthly payments. You don't have to be claiming benefits to receive it.

Below you'll find the key points about the payment, who's eligible and what you could get. For more detailed information, visit our What to do when someone dies guide.

Am I eligible?

You'll be eligible for this benefit if you were:

  • Under state pension age when your partner died
  • Over state pension age and your partner wasn't entitled to a state pension based on their own national insurance contributions
  • Living in the UK, or a country that pays bereavement benefits

 Or if your husband, wife or civil partner:

  • Paid at least 25 weeks of national insurance
  • Died because of an accident at work or disease caused by work

How much can I get? 

The amount you're entitled to depends on whether you're receiving child benefit and when you put the claim in:

  • Receiving child benefit or are entitled to it? The first payment is £3,500, followed by 18 monthly payments of £350. This includes if you're pregnant when your partner died.

  • DON'T receive child benefit? The first payment is £1,500, followed by 18 monthly payments of £100.

How to apply 

You must claim within three months of your partner's death to receive the full amount. You can claim up to 21 months after, but the amount will be less. You can apply by filling in a form or ringing the bereavement service helpline on 0800 731 0469. See Gov.uk for more on how to claim.

The bereavement support payment won't affect your other benefits for a year after your first payment. If after a year you're still receiving the payment, this could affect the other benefits you're eligible for.

What help can I get if I'm not a UK national and don't have a 'right to reside'? 

Even if you don't have permission to live permanently in the UK, you might still be able to access help and support.

For example, if you need medical treatment in the UK, you won't have to pay for diagnosis or treatment of Covid-19. This includes if you're tested and the result is negative. Your immigration status won't be checked if you seek a test or treatment for coronavirus.

For more information about what help you could get, see the Gov.uk website.

NHS and social care staff to get free car parking

NHS and social care staff working in hospitals will get free onsite car parking for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

NHS trusts are responsible for setting hospitals' car parking charges, but the Government says it's committed to providing the financial backing so they can abolish parking charges for their staff.

The Government also says that some hospitals may require additional car parking capacity and that under new measures, some key workers will be able to use council parking bays without time restrictions or charges.

The changes will apply to all on-street parking and open, council-run car parks, including pay and display, and will see charges suspended for health workers, social care workers and NHS volunteers. The way that people provide evidence for their jobs will be decided by individual councils.

The National Car Parks group has also confirmed that it will provide free parking for NHS staff at all 150 of its car parks in England.

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