What is. Universal Credit. & how will it affect me?

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1 What is Universal Credit & how will it affect me?

2 About this leaflet A new benefit called Universal Credit has started to replace a range of benefits and tax credits for people of working age - see the list below. Universal Credit is paid differently to these benefits - it is a single, monthly payment that includes help with your rent. Universal Credit is for anyone on a low to moderate income. It does not matter whether you are in work (or how many hours you work), or out of work because you are seeking work, or caring, or too ill to work. This leaflet explains more about the changes, how you can prepare for them and what help is available. What is Universal Credit replacing? Universal Credit brings together six benefits and tax credits and replaces them with a single monthly payment. It is replacing the following: Universal Credit - what s happening? This leaflet will help you get ready for Universal Credit. Income-based Jobseekers Allowance Income-related Employment and Support Allowance Income Support Child Tax Credit Working Tax Credit Housing Benefit Any benefits you receive which are not included in the above list will continue to be paid as usual, such as Child Benefit, Carers Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Council Tax Support and so on. Universal Credit will not affect you, if you and your partner (if you have one) are Pension Credit age. 2

3 When will I be affected by Universal Credit? Universal Credit is slowly being rolled out across the UK and certain new jobseekers will be the first people to claim it. If you already receive one of the benefits Universal Credit is due to replace, you continue to do so as normal until you are told you need to claim Universal Credit instead. This change will take several years to complete so it could be a long time before it is your turn. If you are told you need to claim - contact your landlord. My Housing Benefit currently gets paid to my landlord - will this change? In most cases, any financial support you get to help pay your rent will be included in your Universal Credit award, and paid to you on a monthly basis. You ll then pay your full rent to your landlord yourself. However, if you are two months or more in arrears with your rent, your landlord can request that an amount be taken out of your Universal Credit award and paid directly to them. This may not, however, cover your full rent and there may be a shortfall for you to pay. If you feel that you would be unable to cope with paying your rent and are worried about falling into arrears, you can ask the DWP to consider you for an alternative payment arrangement. This is where the DWP pay an amount out of your Universal Credit award to your landlord, with any remaining entitlement paid to you. This may not, however, cover your full rent and there may be a shortfall for you to pay. EXAMPLE: Micah and her baby get Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Council Tax Support and Housing Benefit. At some point in 2016 she is told she has to claim Universal Credit. Her Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit stop and are replaced by Universal Credit. This is paid as one lump sum on a monthly basis into her Basic Bank account. She pays her rent and other bills by direct debit. Her Child Benefit and Council Tax Support carry on being paid as usual. 3

4 How and when is Universal Credit paid? Universal Credit is paid once a month into an account that you choose. Universal Credit will normally only be paid as a single payment. So if you have a partner, and between you have more than one account, you will need to choose which account it is paid into. Your first payment will be made one calendar month and 7 or 14 days after your date of claim and then calendar monthly after that. If you think you will find it difficult to manage while waiting for this first payment ask the DWP for an advance payment - ask for this at your first interview at the Jobcentre or call the helpline on But note - this will be paid back out of your future Universal Credit payments. Some people, rather than having monthly payments, can get the amount split and paid twice a month - but you will have to ask for this and explain why you cannot manage with monthly payments. EXAMPLE: When his job ends Sam claims Universal Credit. He has a number of debts and so asks the DWP for an advance payment and to be paid twice a month. The DWP agree to his request to ensure he does not fall behind with his debt repayments. They will review his case in 3 months. How much Universal Credit will I get? Universal Credit is a family benefit. This means how much you receive depends on your, your partner s and any dependent children s personal circumstances ie being unfit for work, your housing costs, how many children you have, whether any of your children are disabled and so on, as well as certain income you already have coming in. Most people will receive a similar level of Universal Credit to the amount they receive from the benefits that it is replacing. But the rules are different and this means that: Some people who cannot claim one of the six benefits it is replacing could claim Universal Credit. Some people will be better off on Universal Credit. Some people may be worse off - although many will be entitled to have their current level of benefits protected for a while. Please talk to a Benefits Adviser for further details. 4

5 Do I have to have a bank account? No. You will need an account for Universal Credit to be paid into, but Universal Credit can be paid into several different types of account. Universal Credit can be paid into a: Post Office card account - this is a type of account specifically designed for receiving benefits. It can only be accessed at a Post Office during opening hours or at a Post Office ATM (hole in the wall) and does not allow Direct Debits or standing orders to pay rent or bills. Basic Bank Account - this allows you to have many of the same features as a current account without going overdrawn. Most allow Direct Debits and standing orders. Credit Union Current Account - many Credit Unions offer a current account where benefits and wages can be paid in, direct debits and standing orders can be arranged, and other banking facilities are available such as jam jar accounts see below. Jam jar account (also called a budgeting account) - this is a new type of account that divides your money into several pots so you can keep money to pay bills separate from your spending money. It often has a monthly fee. Current Account - this could be with a bank or building society. This type of account has the widest range of facilities, but you will normally need to pass a credit check to open one. And unlike basic accounts you can become overdrawn and face charges. Prepaid Card Account - a card your Universal Credit can be paid onto. You can use the card to pay in shops, but you won t be able to set up direct debits or standing orders for bills or rent. You may be charged to set up the card, to receive payments, or use cash machines. What s best for me? The best type of account will depend on exactly how you wish to use it. For example, if you want to ensure your rent is paid and you have access to your money at any time of the day but don t want to risk going overdrawn, then it may be best to have a basic bank account. If you want to be able to put your income into various pots to ensure your bills are paid then maybe a jam jar account is best. For more information on choosing an account, speak to a Benefits Adviser or take a look at the Money Advice Service website: moneyadviceservice.org.uk 5

6 Features of different accounts At a glance... Current Account Basic Bank Account Does it allow Direct Debits and standing orders? Does it offer an overdraft facility? Can I use any cash machine? Is a debit card provided? Some accounts offer a small buffer zone of Usually (although some providers restrict use to their own machines). Sometimes. Is a cheque book provided? Are credit checks needed to open the account? Are there any fees and charges? Fees and interest charged on overdrafts. Penalties for returned standing orders or Direct Debits. No No Usually charge penalties for returned standing orders or Direct Debits. These vary greatly from bank to bank. 6

7 Jam Jar Account Post Office Card Account No No Prepaid Card No No No No, the card can only be used at the Post Office / Post Office ATM - although you may be charged. No No Most prepaid cards can be used in all the same places as a debit card. No No No No No No Monthly fee of around No penalties for returned standing orders or Direct Debits. No. Charges vary, but can include: set-up fee, load fee to top up, cash machine fee, transaction fee. 7

8 How will I claim Universal Credit? You will apply online - on the internet. This applies to someone making a new claim for Universal Credit as well as someone moving onto Universal Credit from one of the benefits it is replacing. If you don t have access to the internet at home you may be able to use computers at your council offices, library or maybe at your Jobcentre. If you need help making your claim online you can usually get advice at your local council, or you can get help over the phone - from the Universal Credit helpline: (call charges apply and can be expensive from some mobile phones - so ask the DWP to call you back - note that this will show as a withheld number ). If you are a tenant - answer to the question Do you pay rent to live in your home? even if your rent is currently paid by Housing Benefit. Before you claim Make sure you have the following information: Your (and your partner s) National Insurance number. Your postcode. Your landlord s name and address. Your eligible rent if you are living in social housing - this can be different from your full rent - make sure to check with your landlord so you get paid the right amount of Universal Credit. Details of any children / relatives / friends who live with you. Account details of where you want your Universal Credit to be paid. Details of any savings. If working - your expected monthly wage. Details of any other income you receive. Your address, landline and / or mobile phone number. Once you ve made your claim, most people will have to go to the Jobcentre for an interview, to sign their claimant commitment, to provide documents and to discuss their personal budgeting needs. You will need to report any changes online (or via the helpline) - such as losing or getting a job, changes in your household, a rent increase.. Don t forget - to get help with paying your Council Tax bill you will need to make a separate claim for Council Tax Support from your local council. 8

9 What is the Claimant Commitment? To claim Universal Credit, you - and your partner if you have one - will need to agree and sign a claimant commitment. This will outline what you (and your partner) need to do in order to be paid, and continue to receive, your full Universal Credit award. If you are fit enough to work, but not currently working, you will need to look for work - most people fit enough to work will be expected to spend 35 hours a week looking for work. Some people - eg those with children under 13, will not be expected to spend as much time looking for work. And some - ie those with a child under one, who are unfit for work, or certain carers, will not be expected to do any work search. Some part-time and lower paid workers may also have to show they are looking for more hours / higher paid work. EXAMPLE: Peter and Sandy get Housing Benefit that covers only part of their rent as Sandy gets a low wage. In 2016 they are told to claim Universal Credit. As a condition of claiming, Sandy has to look for a full time job / better paid job. Peter isn t required to look for work as he has been found unfit for work - but he does need to attend regular interviews at the Jobcentre. Failing to keep to your claimant commitment will mean losing some of your Universal Credit for a period - this is called a sanction. Hardship Payments are available to some people faced by such a sanction but this is a loan that will need to be repaid. EXAMPLE: Ben finishes college in He is living in an area where Universal Credit has started. He claims whilst looking for a job. (He also makes a claim for Council Tax Support directly to his local Council.) As a condition of claiming Universal Credit he has to spend 35 hours a week looking for a job. He fails to do so and his Universal Credit is reduced. He applies for a Hardship Payment because otherwise he will struggle to pay all his bills and his rent. He will need to budget carefully and ensure his rent is paid. 9

10 Get ready for Universal Credit 1. Think about how you will budget monthly Universal Credit is generally paid monthly and you may have other income coming in at different times during the month. If you work and your earnings vary or you are paid weekly, then the amount of Universal Credit you receive can also change from month to month. Drawing up a budget of all your household income and outgoings is going to be important as you want to make sure you can pay all your bills and manage until the end of the month. If you have debts, speak to a money adviser now about how you are going to manage your payments in the future with a monthly income and what you may need to do. For help with budgeting and / or debts find a local money advice service or Citizens Advice Bureau near you, or look on: Consider how you will access the internet You will be expected to claim Universal Credit and report changes in your circumstances online. Think about where you will be able to access the internet - this could be at your local library, community centre, Local Authority or Jobcentre. If you would like to improve your computer skills, your Jobcentre or local library can help you find a course. Or, if you already have access to the internet, look online - there are free courses that will build your confidence. 3. Ensuring your rent is paid When you move onto Universal Credit tell your landlord and make arrangements with them for how your rent will be paid. If you can, consider paying a little extra rent each week now, so that when you move onto Universal Credit and are paid monthly in arrears there is a buffer on your rent account. 10

11 4. Do you need to open a new bank account? If you don t have a bank account, think about whether having one will help you to manage your bills and rent payments. You may want to ask for a Basic Bank Account which won t allow you to go overdrawn. If you have a partner you will get a single payment of Universal Credit for both of you, so consider whether you want a joint account. Find out about your local Credit Union and see what sort of accounts they have - they might have an account that helps you organise your bill payments. Consider opening a jam jar account - these can make it easier to manage all your bills, including your rent. Although this type of account usually comes with a monthly fee, some Housing Associations offer incentives for using them. Paying by Direct Debit can be one of the most effective ways to save money on certain bills. Paying this way can help spread the cost of essentials and many gas, electricity and phone suppliers offer better deals if you choose this. If you are going to pay your bills by Direct Debit, make sure you are going to have enough money in your account when they are due to come out or you may face high bank charges. When you start to get Universal Credit consider changing the date on which your Direct Debits leave your account - make sure the person or organisation who is receiving these payments is happy with the new date. 5. Couples - can you claim Pension Credit? If only one member of a couple is Pension Credit age* they will be expected to claim Universal Credit unless they are getting Pension Credit. If you or your partner are Pension Credit age*, find out if you might qualify for Pension Credit. Talk to a Benefits Adviser or phone the Pension Service on If you are awarded Pension Credit you will not need to claim Universal Credit and you are likely to be better off financially. * ask a Benefits Adviser or see the gov.uk website. If in doubt - ask for help. 11

12 Useful contacts: Department for Work and Pensions Citizens Advice (CAB) National Debt Line tel: Step Change tel: Money Advice Service tel: (English) or (Welsh) Produced August Please note contents are subject to change, and are not a statement of law. Please consult an appropriate professional for specific advice tailored to your situation. Produced by A Welfare Reform information website for housing professionals.

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