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.