Universal Credit more detailed guide
The information on this page must be read in conjunction with our page on coronavirus and benefits, which describes the changes to benefits and restricted face to face access to Jobcentres.
This guide to Universal Credit includes who it applies to and where to find further support and information.
- What is Universal Credit?
- When and how is Universal Credit being introduced?
- How this roll out is happening
- What changes might lead to a claim for Universal Credit - or not. Plus a handy table
- Who can get Universal Credit?
- How much is Universal Credit?
- How do I claim Universal Credit?
- Managing your Universal Credit online - your Universal Credit ‘account'
- How is Universal Credit paid?
- Work related activity you may expected to do and what may happen if you fail to do it
- Universal Credit and volunteering
- Other benefits, help and general rules
- Extra help and support under Universal Credit - including in Newcastle
- Will my benefit go up or down when I transfer to Universal Credit?
- Toolkits for employers and landlords
- Further information about Universal Credit
Universal Credit is a new government benefit which is replacing the following working age and means tested (or 'income related') benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit
These six benefits are called 'legacy benefits'.
Universal Credit is not replacing these other means tested benefits:
- Council Tax Reduction, which is administered by local councils. Important: This needs to be claimed as well as Universal Credit. It is not paid automatically
- Pension Credit
- Housing Benefit for those of Pension Credit age (but see below about 'mixed age couples')
- Housing Benefit for those in specified accommodation like supported housing - although Universal Credit should be claimed for the rest of their needs. Details from Shelter
All the other benefits (known as ‘non means tested’) continue, including contribution based JSA which has become 'New Style JSA', contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which has become 'New Style ESA', disability benefits like Personal Independence Payment, pension age benefits, Child Benefit and many others. For more details, see 'other benefits' below and benefits information
'Full service' Universal Credit is now available across the UK.
'Full service' Universal Credit fully replaces the above six ‘legacy benefits’ and the reasons for getting them. The general idea is that apart from some exceptions, you cannot make a new claim for any of those six ‘legacy benefits’. Once you have claimed Universal Credit you cannot normally return to or claim the 'legacy benefits.'
This 'full service' Universal Credit is also known as 'digital full service'. To avoid confusion, we call it simply 'Universal Credit'.
A limited form of Universal Credit called 'live service' that was introduced in 27 April 2015 was closed to new claims on 1 January 2018 and has now been fully replaced by 'full service' Universal Credit. It was for claims from single jobseekers.
How this roll out is happening and what changes might lead to a claim for Universal Credit - or not. Plus a handy table
This depends on which of the following situations you are in:
- Not on a 'legacy benefit' - new claims:
If someone makes a claim for any of the six ‘legacy benefits’ listed above, they will be told they have to claim Universal Credit instead unless an ‘exception’ below applies. Also see How do I claim Universal Credit? below.
- On 'legacy benefits' - changes in circumstances:
If someone is on one or more of the ‘legacy benefits' and has a change in circumstances which would have meant a claim for another 'legacy benefit', they may have to claim Universal Credit instead unless an ‘exception’ below applies. If their Universal Credit is less than their 'legacy benefits' there is no top up to the higher amount. There are many circumstances where they do not have to claim Universal Credit and can remain on their ‘legacy benefit(s)’. In which case some may have the option to choose but this decision should be based on a ,better-off, comparison calculation between ‘legacy benefits' and Universal Credit.
Warning. If you do receive one or more of those ‘legacy benefits', they will stop if you or your partner claim Universal Credit – and you may either be worse or better off. Once you have claimed UC, you cannot normally return to those legacy benefits. The DWP have warned about this on their Universal Credit webpages. NB. In June 2020 the Court of Appeal ruled that the failure to provide transitional protection for claimants who were worse off when they transferred to Universal Credit was unlawful. The government's response is awaited.
- Table: This table lists some of the main changes in circumstances which may lead to a claim for Universal Credit and when it may not
- On 'legacy benefits' - 'pilot managed migration':
In July 2019, the government begin to introduce 'managed migration' for a small number of people on 'legacy benefits' - not in Newcastle. They were told when to claim Universal credit and the government will learn lessons from this in preparation for the full 'managed migration' to follow. This pilot was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.
- On 'legacy benefits' - full 'managed migration':
At some stage, those who are still on 'legacy benefits' will be told to claim Universal Credit - in the final part of 'managed migration'. They will get any losses made up called transitional protection.
Also, see the section below: Will my benefit go up or down when I transfer to Universal Credit?
As described above, you cannot normally claim a ‘legacy benefit’. But there is this exception:
Protection for some disabled people:
In June 2018 the government announced some protection for some disabled people (receiving the severe disability premium in their ‘legacy benefit’) who were losing substantial monthly amounts due to the lack of transitional protection when they had to claim Universal Credit following a change in circumstances. Since 16 January 2019 they have not had to claim Universal Credit even if they have a relevant change in circumstances. This protection ends on 26 January 2021. Those who have already claimed Universal Credit and lost out, will be recompensed. For news on this, sign up to our Benefit Bulletins. More details from gov.uk
The two child limit
There was an interim period between 6 April 2017 and 31 January 2019, where people with more than three children were not able to claim Universal Credit and were directed to claim ‘legacy benefits’. Since 1 February 2019, they are able to claim Universal Credit, but the two child limit means they are not able to claim for three or subsequent children born on or after 6 April 2017, unless an exception applies. More details on the two child limit
See also the section ‘Will my benefit go up or down when I transfer to Universal Credit?’ below
How the Universal Credit roll out happened in Newcastle:
Universal Credit has rolled out to all areas of the UK. This shows how it was rolled out in Newcastle.
On 25 May 2016, Universal Credit was rolled out to those living in the area covered by Newcastle City jobcentre, Cathedral Square. This means those living in the following postcode areas:
On 8 February 2017, Universal Credit was rolled out to those living in the area covered by Newcastle East Jobcentre, Coquet House. This means those living in the following postcode areas:
On 15 March 2017, Universal Credit was rolled out to those living in the area covered by Newcastle West Job Centre, Condercum House. This means those living in the following postcode areas:
This completed the Universal Credit roll out to all three Newcastle jobcentres.
NB. Newcastle West Jobcentre Plus office permanently closed on 31st August 2018. It’s services were moved to Newcastle City Jobcentre Plus office
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 amounts may differ. For example, Universal Credit does not have any working hours limits as with 'legacy benefits' like Working Tax Credit.
Universal Credit is normally payable to one person in the benefit ‘household’ – which includes a partner and any dependent children they are responsible for.
Universal Credit is a 'working age' benefit. That means it is payable from 18 years old up to 'Pension Credit qualifying age' which depends on your date of birth and can be calculated online . It can be paid to 16 and 17 year olds in limited circumstances.
Mixed age couples
From 15 May 2019, couples will normally both have to be of pension age to get Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit. In 'mixed age' couples, where only one is of pension age, new claims will normally have to be for Universal Credit instead. Before this date, such ‘mixed age’ couples could claim Pension Credit and/or pension age Housing Benefit rather than Universal Credit. More details on our special page on mixed age couples and from Benefit Bulletins.
The amount you get will depend on the circumstances described above, your (or your partner's) income and savings, age, family circumstances (such as children, a couple or single), if you or your partner are incapable of work or a carer and housing costs - like rent. For example, it includes an extra element for a carer, or an additional element for being incapable of work (see our factsheet: Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit 'work capability assessment') an amount for each child, which is higher if they are disabled and so on. But the 'two child limit' means you cannot claim an element for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017 unless an exception applies. These elements make a total amount which is compared with income you (and your partner) may have and the amount of Universal Credit that you will be paid is the difference on a sliding scale. Income includes earnings and some benefits. Self-employed earnings are treated differently
As your income or circumstances change, so too may your Universal Credit. This is similar to the 'legacy benefits'. However, a big difference is that Universal Credit is one benefit with one calculation, so that as you move in and out of work, or your income goes up or down, it will just be the amount of Universal Credit that changes. There may be differences in the amounts payable under Universal Credit and 'legacy benefits'. See below for what happens to amounts when you have to move to Universal Credit. Also, see our page on how to calculate your benefit entitlement online, including Universal Credit.
If you are an employed Universal Credit claimant, your employer immediately reports any changes in earnings via Pay As You Earn (PAYE) information to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This is referred to as Real Time Information or RTI. However, you still have to notify Jobcentre Plus so that your Universal Credit can be adjusted manually, if your employer doesn't use this system such as for cash in hand payments and other income or for changes in circumstances. You do this via your online 'journal' (the 'journal' is described below).
As with 'legacy benefits', the amount of Universal Credit may be restricted by the household benefit cap and the limits on help with rent, such as the 'under occupancy' rule for social housing tenants, known as the "bedroom tax" and the Local Housing Allowance restrictions for private tenants. There are also restrictions on mortgage help, which is a loan from April 2018. See also the 'two child limit' above. Direct deductions can be taken from Universal Credit to repay arrears such as rent arrears and fines. The maximum that can be recovered was reduced from 40% to 30% in October 2019. Keep up to date with these changes via our benefit bulletins.
The government expects almost everyone to claim and manage their Universal Credit online. This link takes you to the government's Universal Credit online claim page.
New claims for the 'live service' were stopped from 1 January 2018 (see above)
To claim Universal Credit the first stage is to set up an online account, where you provide basic information including a useable email address, a user name and password – all of which you must remember. You are then emailed a code. This enables you to go onto make your actual online claim for Universal Credit, which may take from 20 minutes to over an hour, depending on your circumstances.
There are three areas of your Universal Credit online account:
- The ‘to do’ area lists all the actions you need to take and the information you need to provide in order to successfully claim Universal Credit. This includes information about you, any family, work, income, health, caring responsibilities and a bank account or similar. For information on such accounts, see How do I receive my Universal Credit below.
- The ‘journal’ area, is where you communicate with your work coach during you claim. See more details on managing your Universal Credit online.
- The 'home' area which provides information about your claim and award.
You can save and return to the application later. However, the sooner you make your claim the better. The actual claim is done at the ‘declaration’ screen where you click ‘submit claim’. You may have more information to provide but this starts the claim.
Once you have submitted your claim, you have to ring to arrange a meeting with your ‘Work Coach’ at the Jobcentre straight away. The online account will tell you how to do this and the person you speak to will tell you what you need to bring, such as documents to prove who you are and to support your claim such as tenancy agreement, wage slips and so on. In the meeting you will discuss and agree appropriate work related activity called your Claimant Commitment and any outstanding information you need to provide, including online verification. You will also be given a 16 digit personal security number – which you must also remember to be able to access your account. After the interview, you have 7 days to agree the Claimant Commitment via your online journal. If you don’t your claim might fail.
In couples, each has to make a 'linked' Universal Credit online claim but it will usually be paid to one person, although split payments may be made possible in certain circumstances. see Extra help and support under Universal Credit below.
More information on this claim process and what is required from: government information Universal Credit and you, making a Universal Credit claim and DWP YouTube videos, detailed information by revenuebenefits and how to 'prepare for your interview' by Citizens Advice
Jobcentre Plus provides a freephone telephone number for help and advice on making an online claim which is available from Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. The freephone number is: 0800 328 5644.
If you try to claim Universal Credit online but you are not eligible, you will be directed to some other benefits you may be entitled to. But it may not be a full list so please check our list of all the benefits on our benefits information page
If you have difficulty claiming Universal Credit online
If you don't have home internet access or need a PC in order to complete a Universal Credit claim, Jobcentre Plus have some computers in their offices and they may also suggest you get help from family and friends. You can also get help to claim Universal Credit in various places in Newcastle. Under limited conditions, DWP allow claims to be made over the phone. For details, see Extra help and support under Universal Credit below.
In answer to a Parliamentary question about the ability of vulnerable households to claim and manage their Universal Credit the Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Alok Sharma MP said “All Jobcentres across the country have free Wi-Fi, and there are more than 8,000 computers available to support customers who need help with making their claim digitally and applying for jobs online. There will always be people for whom engaging with us digitally is not a feasible proposition. As a result, a freephone telephone helpline and face to face support are also available for claimants to make and manage a Universal Credit claim. Where needed, the Work Coach will provide the claimant with a written note to remind them of the date of their next appointment, especially if the claimant has difficulty accessing or using online services. A home visit can also be arranged to support a claimant in making their initial claim and completing any other administrative tasks required to ensure the claimant receives the correct payment on time.”
See the government guide: "Universal Credit and homeless people: guide for supporting organisations" which explains how claims can be made over the phone and other support -see Extra help and support under Universal Credit below.
Once you have successfully started your Universal Credit claim, you are able to manage it via your online account. As described above, there are three main areas:
- The ‘home’ page summarises your claim, your monthly payments and how it has been calculated (in arrears)
- The ‘to-do' area lists ongoing actions you must do in order to comply with the claim and your work related activity. You will receive notifications of these actions by email or text - which you will have chosen when you set up your account
- The ‘Journal’ area, lists your completed actions, allows you to start a conversation with your Work Coach and records that conversation.
If your contact details change, you must notify your Work Coach on the Journal so you do not miss any instructions. And of course, you must notify them of any other changes in circumstances to avoid overpayments. Your online Universal Credit account can also be accessed via a smart phone. See also the above section 'How do I claim Universal Credit'.
Couples can decide which partner is paid. The DWP can decide differently and can split the payment if its in the best interests.
Help with rent
As described above, Universal Credit replaces Housing Benefit (called Local Housing Allowance for private tenants) for working age tenants. This help with rent - called 'housing costs' is included in Universal Credit and, along with the rest of your Universal Credit is paid direct to you, rather than to your landlord. However, if you are in debt, rent arrears or vulnerable, you can ask for your housing costs element be paid direct to your landlord for a temporary period - called a ‘managed payment’, under the Alternative Payment Arrangements scheme. You can also request an amount of your Universal Credit goes towards paying off rent arrears.
For more details, see Get help with debt and rent arrears if you're on Universal Credit from Citizens Advice, Universal Credit and rented housing: guide for landlords from the government and extra help and support for Universal Credit below.
If you live in ‘specified’ accommodation such as a hostel, women's refuge or supported accommodation, you get Housing Benefit instead of housing costs in your Universal Credit.
If you receive Housing Benefit when you apply for Universal Credit, your Housing Benefit will continue for two weeks. This should happen automatically but if you move home you should contact the council to check.
The rule stopping some 18 - 21 year olds getting help with their rent was removed from 31 December 2018. More details in the November 2018 and other Benefit Bulletins.
See also 'Extra help and support under Universal Credit' below for Universal Credit and homeless people and those at risk of homelessness
Payments and delays
If you are entitled to Universal Credit, payments will be made one month in arrears. It can mean a five week or longer wait for the first Universal Credit payment. There may be additional delays with administrative or verification issues. If so you can ask for an 'Advance payment of Universal Credit' described below. If you have difficulty with monthly payments in arrears, see also extra help and support for Universal Credit below
Advance payments of Universal Credit
Under Universal Credit there are two main kinds of discretionary recoverable advance payments:
- Universal Credit Advance (new claim, moving from 'legacy benefits' or a change in circumstances): can be requested from Jobcentre Plus for delays in payments of Universal Credit if you are in financial hardship. The advance can be requested and can be paid straight away to provide emergency funds during the first five weeks of a new claim for Universal Credit, when having to claim Universal Credit after being on 'legacy benefits' or if there is a change in circumstances where Universal Credit is likely to go up (such as the birth of a child) or if there is a delay in payment due to a technical reason.
- Universal Credit Budgeting Advance: for one-off expenses like furniture or household equipment, clothing, rent in advance, essential home improvements, travel to work costs, maternity and funeral expenses and help to obtain or remain in work such as upfront child care costs. You must have been on Universal Credit for six months or more and do not have the resources to meet the item. This replaces the Social Fund budgeting loans for people on Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears. What happens if my circumstances change part way through the month?
This monthly period is called an ‘assessment period’. Universal Credit payments are calculated based on the claimant’s circumstances at the end of each assessment period. Where there is a change of circumstances part way through an assessment period, the claimant’s next payment reflects their new circumstances. The change is not applied ‘pro-rata’ proportionality and can result in winners and losers. For example:
• If a you move to a new property with a higher rent part way through an assessment period, your next Universal Credit payment - for the past month - is calculated based on your new rent (so long as you notify the change in that month). This means you gain.
• On the other hand, moving to a property with a lower rent means your next Universal Credit payment covers your new, lower rent. It’ll be the same if you leave a property – no housing costs are included in the Universal Credit payment for that past month. This means you lose.
To receive Universal Credit you will need an account with a bank or a building society. Post Office card accounts may be too limited for Universal Credit. If you can't use an account, Jobcentre Plus may use a Payment Exception Service or possibly a Credit Union to pay your Universal Credit. Each have their own criteria and limitations. Get more details from the Money Advice Service including how to get an account and what they involve.
The amount of Universal Credit paid may also be reduced in several ways.
For example, by a 'sanction' for not satisfying work-related activity requirements (see below), if a non-dependent (such as a grown up son or daughter) is living in the house, for the recovery of an overpayment or to pay off arrears of rent or fuel, water rates, loans or fines and so on.
There are various levels of work-related requirements that most claimants and their partners have to do in return for receiving Universal Credit, depending on their circumstances. This can range from being fully available for and seeking full time work and taking part in mandatory work activities to having no work related requirements. These requirements are included in the Claimant Commitment agreement that you have to go through with the Jobcentre Plus ‘Work Coach’ after your claim but can be revised at a later date. You can ask the Claimant Commitment and your work requirements if they do not match your situation. Many of these work-related requirements exist for benefits like JSA but under Universal Credit they are extended to more people such as partners and some people who are in work but not working enough. You should have no work-related requirements can be imposed on you if you work and your earnings are above a certain threshold amount, which depends on whether you are single or a couple and what work requirements you are expected to undertake.
For more details, see the DWP description 'Universal Credit and your Claimant Commitment' and the Citizens Advice description of the work-related requirements.
If you don't comply with your work-related requirements a ‘sanction' may be applied
This means your Universal Credit 'standard allowance' is stopped or reduced for a length of time. This can be from four weeks and up to three years. This will not affect the amount of the Universal Credit payment that is given for a child or housing costs. Unlike 'legacy benefits', sanctions under Universal Credit run consecutively rather than concurrently. Also, the hardship payment that may be claimed during the sanction is a repayable loan. This means that under Universal Credit, you will face longer periods on reduced benefit if you don't comply with the requirements of your Claimant Commitment. You have a right to challenge and appeal against these decisions. See our ‘benefits information’ page for advice on 'benefit sanctions and how to avoid them'.
There are new rules under Universal Credit for volunteers. For more information and help to avoid problems, please read our leaflet on Universal Credit and volunteering, which we have produced with the DWP and the Newcastle Volunteer Centre.
As described above, Universal Credit is replacing six working age 'legacy benefits' but many other benefits continue. They include all the 'non-means tested' benefits like Personal Independence Payment, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Retirement Pension, Child Benefit and also the 'means tested' benefits for older people such as Pension Credit and so on.
Also, Contributory ESA becomes ‘New Style ESA’ - details from gov.uk guide, flowchart and independent information and Contribution based JA becomes ‘New Style JSA’ – - details from gov.uk guide, flowchart and independent information.
These other benefits will also interact with Universal Credit, for example a child getting Disability Living Allowance leads to an extra amount of Universal Credit and benefits such as Maternity Allowance can reduce Universal Credit entitlement as it is classed as income. Information on all benefits
Free school meals
You can get free school meals if you are on Universal Credit. If you apply for Universal Credit on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get). Before then you just had to be on Universal Credit to get free school meals and most of those in that situation should continue to get them. More details from the government. More details in government guidance
Legacy benefits 'run-on'
From 22 July 2020 'legacy benefits' like Income Support, Income related ESA and Income based JSA (but not Tax Credits) will continue for two weeks following a claim for Universal Credit. This adds to the run on for Housing Benefit.
Challenging a Universal Credit decision
As with all other benefits, if you are unhappy with a Universal Credit decision, you can ask the DWP to reconsider their decision (called a 'mandatory reconsideration') and if still unhappy, in most cases you can appeal to an independent tribunal. See problems with benefits and tax credits
The government recognises that the move to a single monthly household payment will be a significant change to the way most benefits are currently paid and for those who have difficulty with this, has introduced the Alternative Payment Arrangements scheme which provides the following help on a temporary basis.
- Paying the housing costs element of Universal Credit direct to the landlord
- Paying Universal Credit weekly or fortnightly rather than monthly
- Splitting payment of an award between partners
For details see the DWP webpage Universal Credit - Alternative Payment arrangements and guidance from CPAG
Help with making an online claim and help with budgeting - in Newcastle:
In addition, the DWP, local councils and Citizens Advice are working in partnership on the support arrangements that vulnerable claimants may need. This includes support to make a Universal Credit claim online and help with budgeting. For information on this in Newcastle, see Universal Credit - information on support arrangements (PDF) which describe the steps involved in claiming Universal Credit and the support arrangements that may be available.
See also Universal Credit advice for YHN tenants.
You may find useful the Money Advice Service’s special Universal Credit online practical support and advice website
Speaking to the Jobcentre on behalf of a Universal Credit claimant:
Universal Credit and homeless people and those at risk of homelessness
The government have produced this guidance for claimants and organisations which describes the support such claimants can get
The above section ‘How this roll out is happening in...’ describes ways in which those on 'legacy benefits' might have to claim Universal Credit if they live in a Universal Credit area and have a particular change in circumstances. This is called 'natural migration'. If that happens, and their Universal Credit is a lower amount they will drop down to that amount. There is no ‘transitional protection' but see below and note the 'protection' for 'more disabled' people, described above.
At some stage, those still on 'legacy benefits' will begin to be asked to claim Universal Credit, called 'managed migration'. It will start with a small number first. If their 'legacy benefits' are higher than Universal Credit, they will keep the difference, called ‘transitional protection'. However, this amount is frozen until the Universal Credit amount catches up with it with inflation and it can also be lost with a change in circumstances such as a partner leaving or joining the household or if earnings fall below a certain level.
For news on this, sign up for our Benefit Bulletins
The DWP website provides these useful set of resources:
To help you understand what changes you may need to make, the government have also produced an online Universal Credit personal planner, 'getting ready for Universal Credit'.
YHN and some housing associations can also provide advice and support to their tenants. See also our webpage which describes the Benefit advice services in Newcastle and benefit offices that may also help.