One in five face problems trying to make a new claim for Universal Credit so we asked claimants themselves what they learnt the hard way
All new working age people needing to lean on welfare will now have to claim Universal Credit (UC). By 2024, anyone who claims the following benefits will be moved on it: Income Support, Housing Benefit, Working and Child Tax Credits, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).
In theory, it’s simpler with one benefit instead a mix of these six. Most people have had no problems, but roughly one in five people have struggled. So we asked claimants who were first to move onto Universal Credit what they wished they’d been told at the start. Their Top Ten Tips now feature in this video…
- Interested in our full Guide to Universal Credit? Click here
The Key Issues
(Click the topic to expand)
Almost everything is different about Universal Credit (UC) compared to the old system:
- It is paid monthly, in arrears, and the first payment is at least five weeks after we make our first claim. If we’re used to the old system, payments no longer arrive separately but in one go
- Payments include any housing costs to cover rent (that Housing Benefit used to cover). It’s our job to make sure rent is paid
- One payment is made for all claimants living at the same household, except in Scotland. (See Scottish Choices here)
- The claim has to be managed online, starting with the claim itself then day-to-day using an electronic Journal. More details here
- Almost all claimants will need a mainstream bank account that receive electronic payments. If we’re smart, it will also handle direct debits so we don’t need to keep thinking about rent payments and bills
- When working, we don’t lose benefits pound for pound. There is a ‘tapered’ approach and some people can earn over £503 before anything is deducted from UC payments. Read more on earnings and allowances here
- What’s the catch? We have to sign a Claimant Commitment promising to do our bit to get a job, more hours or better paid work. Fail to stick to it and we could be penalised. More here
The biggest pitfalls claimants tell us are around their Banking, Budgeting and Being online. Looking through the key issues above, we can see. That’s why Quids in! has arranged some help around these 3 Bs… or the three bees you’ll see hovering around this page. In a way, they want to bug you into action because nothing will sting you worse than not being prepared in advance of moving across to UC.
The three bees also star on our Guide to Universal Credit, a 32-page walk-through of the system – our landlord or local council may have free copies. Otherwise, copies are available to buy here.
As a rule of thumb, if we have the right bank account (Banking), if we’re sure more is coming in than going out – and what to do if it isn’t (Budgeting), and know where and how to use the internet (Being online), we’re likely to be fine.
Anyone on any the six benefits listed above should start putting these things in place now. Try not to become one of the large number of Universal Credit claimants who went into rent arrears. Many people tell us they’ve received a letter threatening eviction before they’ve even received their first payment.
Read more about the message of the 3 Bs.
Universal Credit makes two big promises:
- “The system is simpler”: Like anything new, it certainly doesn’t feel like it to start with. The jury is still out on whether it gets simpler over time
- “Everyone will be better off in work”: Campaign groups say there are definitely certain groups who are worse off on UC. But while the old system would deduct almost anything we earned off our benefits, Universal Credit does this more slowly. For most of us, it takes 63p off our benefit for every pound we earn. People with children or extra challenges to getting work have an allowance that allows them to earn a certain amount before anything is deducted. Initial research suggests most workers will be better off as they take on a job but we are watching this closely
- Some cuts to benefits have come in as UC is rolled out, making it appear that people are worse off on UC. This is not always the system’s fault
Read more about better off in work.
Below are the ten headlines UC claimants asked Quids in! to pass on. Have a think about which ones might apply. If they do, follow the links for more information. And remember, don’t panic! There are people who can help and everything is easier when we go into things with our eyes open. So, thanks go to those who had to learn the hard way.
- COMPLEX CASES
The worst thing we’ve heard is that the more problems someone has, the more likely it is that the computer will say ‘no’! Anyone needing or receiving support for health or housing issues, for example, should ask a support worker or advice agency for extra help. Too many complex claims have ‘tripped’ and had to be restarted, causing delays to the first payment… of a month or two or more. People experiencing domestic abuse may find their benefits are now paid to the abuser. This is because only one claimant per household receives everyone’s payment. In Scotland, it is recognised victims may not be able to ask for this, so each claimant receives what they’re due. (See Scottish Choices.)
- BANKING ON IT
Quids in! readers told us just three in five use a bank account. The rule of thumb is that a regular account, or a Basic Bank Account, helps ensure Universal Credit payments come through, and payments go out, without a hitch. More on banking here
- ID, ID, ID
So many people don’t have a good set of ID documents. You don’t have to have a passport or a driving licence but it seems the government assumed everyone does. You’ll need ID to start a Universal Credit claim… and to get a bank account, if you don’t have one. More here
- EARLY BIRDS CATCH THE WORM
People whose claims get delayed have often put off getting ready for Universal Credit until it happens. But now we understand how to make the move onto the new benefit system easier. Start working through the things we’re going to need, (ie, everything on this page), as soon as possible
- SAVE TO BORROW
Here’s the best example of why we need prepare early. Although claimants can ask for an advance while waiting for their first payment, repayments are then deducted from future payments. Saving, especially with a Credit Union if there is one locally, means we can build a buffer to fall back. (We can also organise a loan to tide us over while moving to monthly payments in arrears.) Best started no later than a year before things change.
One in ten (11%) of Quids in! readers told us they had no access to the internet. Almost all Universal Credit claimants need to make and manage their claim online. The government wants everyone to use the web and you can fight the power but you’ll probably struggle to receive Universal Credit on time. In addition to libraries, council offices and community centres, there are Online Centres around the country to help. Find your nearest Online Centre here. (Obviously, during lockdown, these options are limited. Ask your council or landlord if they know of any help to get online.)
- BALANCING THE BOOKS
Making sure we have more coming in than going out is a straightforward exercise. More important is knowing what to do if this won’t be the case. With Universal Credit, earning more is an option but cutting other costs is the usual place to start. We can’t do anything until we know where we stand. More here.
- GOING WITHOUT
The minimum period Universal Credit claimants will wait for their first payment is five weeks. Any previous Housing Benefit claim will continue for two weeks but then the landlord will want to hear when their rent will be paid. We need to plan ahead. Something like a Doomsday Cupboard (more here) can help, or a list of where to blag cheap travel or childcare. Otherwise, be prepared to join hundreds of other claimants forced into debt and joining the queues for the foodbank.
- THE SAFETY NET
This is a new system and it’s being improved all the time but there is lot that isn’t perfect about Universal Credit. There are helplines, for example, but to start they were understaffed and charged a premium rate, which campaigners got changed. Some claimants can get their rent paid direct to the landlord but will the landlord accept this? (In Scotland, everyone can ask for their rent to go straight to the landlord, under Scottish Choices.)
- BEING HUMAN
It is the human condition to freeze when facing trouble but it’s the worse thing when it comes to money. Getting informed and preparing ahead is the best plan but find help if you need it once it comes to the crunch. Too many people have waited until they receive a letter from the landlord mentioning eviction.
There are two things we recommend you do straight away, if you are worried:
- Don’t get stressed, get informed
Read through the information here and follow all the relevant links. Try to get hold of a copy of our Universal Credit Guide which has more detail. Write down all the questions you have at the end
- Help on hand
Now find out who can answer those questions. This can range from your local council or your landlord, through to national advice lines and websites. We’ve listed the most important ones here
- Frequently Asked Questions
If you think other people will need the same information, drop us a line using our web enquiry form here
- For more on Scottish Choices click here
- Want to go over the basics? See this Readers Club article: Universal Credit 101
- Understand the ideas behind UC but want to see how the online claim process works? Take a look at this course from LearnMyWay
- Money Advice Service: Universal Credit Explained