Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more of us are claiming Universal Credit. Latest figures from the government show a whopping 5.8million people were claiming the benefit as of November 2020.
Millions have struggled with the Universal Credit (UC) system. Since it was launched, Quids in! has followed claimants sharing the tricks they’ve learnt to make it work for them.
Here are the 10 secrets claimants want us to know about Universal Credit (UC):
- UC rolls six benefits into one
UC replaces six previous benefits including child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), and working tax credit.
- £16,000 savings? Computer says ‘No’
To qualify for UC we can’t have more than £16,000 in savings – this includes our partner’s savings if we are making a joint claim. If we have £6,000 or more, any payments we are entitled to will be reduced by £4.35 for every £250 we have in savings.
To make a claim we must also be:
• on a low income or out of work
• 18 or over
• under state pension age (or your partner is)
• live in the UK
- We get a standard allowance each month
The standard monthly allowance that everyone is entitled to, is £342.72 if we’re single and under 25, or £409.89 if we’re over 25. If we’re in a couple and are both under 25, we’ll receive a total of £488.59. If we’re in a couple and over 25 the amount will be £594.04. But we could be entitled to more if we have children, caring duties or housing costs. We can use one of the free calculators online (See qimag. uk/calculate) to get a rough idea of what we can claim.
- The allowance could drop this year
The standard allowance was temporarily boosted last year following the lockdown. The £20-a-week increase is set to end on 31 March. Despite calls for it to be extended, the government has not made a decision yet.
Quids in! says: “Look out for the budget announcement on 3 March.”
5. We can earn and still claim UC
If we are employed, our Universal Credit payment will reduce by 63p for every £1 we earn. This is known as the taper rate. There’s no limit to how many hours we can work. If we’ve got a job and a child who depends on us, or we can’t work as much because of an illness, we may qualify for a work allowance. This means there are no deductions from our claim up to a certain earnings threshold. (See qimag.uk/ucandearnings)
6. The amount we’re paid changes each month
UC is based on how much income we get during an ‘assessment period’. An assessment period starts on the day we made our first claim. So for example, if we claimed UC on 16 January, our assessment period would run from 16 January until 15 February. Our second assessment period would run from 16 February until 15 March.
*In the past this has caused problems for thousands of workers when payday fell on a weekend or bank holiday. The automatic system sometimes made it look like we’d been paid twice in one month – leaving some without benefits for a whole month. Thankfully a recent rule change means if we are paid twice in one month, the system will register one payment in the following ‘assessment period’.
Quids in! says: “Although it’s good news, we can’t assume the system will take care of this. We should make a note in our Journal when two payments come in during one assessment period.”
7. UC can be reduced if we owe debts
If we have debts or loans, money can be taken from our UC payments to repay them. Normally the most that can be taken is 30 per cent of the standard allowance. It is paid directly to the person or organisation we owe money to.
*We could have more than 30 per cent taken off in cases where we may be evicted or have our utilities cut off – this is called a ‘last resort deduction.’
8. First payment takes five weeks
It usually takes around five weeks to get our first payment. If this is too long we can apply for an Advance Payment. This will be repaid out of future UC payments. We can apply via our online Journal or Jobcentre Plus work coach. If we were already claiming Housing Benefit, this continues for a couple of weeks after we’ve made our UC claim.
Quids in! says: “Claimants have regretted taking the Advance because they lose so much every month to repay it. Only take it if there is no other way or at least don’t take the full amount.”
9. An emergency loan might be an option
Most new claimants won’t know we can get a cash loan for emergencies such as buying a new cooker, or money we need for a new job. A Budgeting Advance is different to an Advance Payment but still needs to be repaid (and will also be deducted from future UC).
The most we can get is £348 if we’re single with no children, or £464 if we are in a couple with no children. If we have children, we can get a loan of up to £812. (Correct as at March 2021.) To see if we qualify for a Budgeting Advance, we can call the Universal Credit Helpline on 0800 328 5644
10. We can get help with council tax
Did you know Universal Credit claimants could reduce their Council
Tax by up to 100 per cent? How much depends on things like household income, children, having a job and who we pay Council Tax to.
Visit www.gov.uk to find out if the local council offers a Council Tax
Reduction – sometimes known as Council Tax Support – and how to apply.