The following information gives you a simple explanation of Universal Credit, including when it is coming in, who it applies to and where to find further support and information. After each section, there is a link to our more detailed guide to Universal Credit.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a new government benefit replacing six working age and income-related benefits, called 'legacy benefits'.

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When and how is Universal Credit being introduced?

Universal Credit is being introduced across the country. 

By 15 March 2017 in Newcastle, 'full service' Universal Credit had been introduced to all three Newcastle Jobcentre Plus areas. From 27 April 2015, a limited version of Universal Credit was made available for new claims from single jobseekers – called ‘live service' but this was closed in January 2018.

More details on the roll out and how those on 'legacy benefits' are moving across to Universal Credit

Who will be able to get Universal Credit?

The reasons for getting Universal Credit are similar to those for the 'legacy benefits' that it is replacing. For example, having no or little income and being in various situations, such as being too ill to work, in work, unemployed, a lone parent, a carer, or needing help with rent or mortgage payments. However, other rules and the amounts may differ.

Universal Credit is usually paid to one person in the family. It is a ‘working age’ benefit. Those who have reached 'pension age' may be able to claim Pension Credit and Housing Benefit instead.

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How much is Universal Credit?

The amount you get depends on your circumstances such as being single, in a couple, having children, a disability, are working and have housing costs like rent. This total amount may be reduced by certain incomes you may have, such as earnings. The amount may be increased for carers, children with disability or those with certain levels of incapacity for work. The amount will also change as your income changes. For example, your payment will reduce gradually as you earn more. The amount can also be reduced for various reasons, such as the benefit cap.

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How to claim and manage Universal Credit 

You have to claim and manage your Universal Credit online.
This includes notifying any changes in circumstances online and also Jobcentre Plus notifying you electronically of any actions you have to take. Remember, you must do these actions or you may lose money.

You can also phone the Jobcentre for help

There is support for people who have difficulties with claiming online. See Extra help and support under Universal Credit.

Once you have claimed Universal Credit online you will be invited to an interview with a Work Coach at your local Jobcentre Plus office to verify your information and discuss any appropriate work-related activity, which includes agreeing your ‘Claimant Commitment’.

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How is Universal Credit paid?

If you need help with housing costs, such as rent, this will normally be paid with your Universal Credit payment. In limited circumstances it can be paid directly to your landlord for a temporary period.

You are expected to have a bank account or similar for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is paid one month in arrears. It can mean waiting for five weeks or more for your first payment. If this causes hardship, you can claim an ‘advanced payment’ of Universal Credit. After six months on Universal Credit you can also claim a ‘budgeting advance’ to help with furniture and other one-off costs. Both payments are loans and deducted from your future Universal Credit payments.

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How Universal Credit affects those not in full time work (work related requirements)?

To get Universal Credit you and any partner may have to take part in ‘work-related activity’, such as looking and applying for work. The level of activity depends on various circumstances and is decided when you agree your Claimant Commitment and at ongoing interviews. Even if you are working you may be expected to do such activity, depending on the level of your earnings.

These work-related requirements have to be ‘reasonable’, but if you fail to comply, your Universal Credit can be reduced for a certain length of time (called a sanction)

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Universal Credit and volunteering

We have produced an information sheet describing the rules for volunteering under Universal Credit

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Other benefits, help and general rules

Universal Credit is replacing six benefits but others continue to be paid and interact in various ways with Universal Credit. 
All other benefits continue, including contribution based JSA, contributory Employment and Support Allowance, disability benefits, pension age benefits and many others. See our benefits information webpage for more information.

You can get free school meals and help towards health costs if you are on Universal Credit.

As with other benefits you can challenge a Universal Credit decision if you don’t agree with it.

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Extra help and support under Universal Credit

Some people may have serious difficulties with the way that Universal Credit is paid and claimed, such as being paid monthly, in arrears and to one person in a couple, with housing costs being paid to the claimant and having to claim Universal Credit online. In recognition of this the government allow temporary easements, such as the housing costs being paid direct to the landlord and are also working with local authorities to support people, such as online claim support and personal budgeting support.

For those supporting Universal Credit claimants there is guidance on permission to speak to the Jobcentre Plus on their behalf.

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Will my benefit go up or down when I transfer to Universal Credit?

  • If you have to claim Universal Credit and it is lower than the benefits it is replacing, you will usually drop down to the level of Universal Credit
  • From about 2019 or 2020 those still on 'legacy benefits' will begin to be 'migrated' to Universal Credit. In which case you will keep the higher amount as a top up to your Universal Credit
  • If Universal Credit is higher, in either case you will get the higher amount of Universal Credit

Much of this will depend on your individual circumstances.

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Toolkit for employers and landlords

The government provide useful information about Universal Credit, including advice for landlords and employers.

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More details on Universal Credit

This is a simple explanation of Universal Credit. For more details, see our more detailed guide to Universal Credit.

Page last updated: 
7 June 2018
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