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Universal Credit supports people who are out of work or on a low income. It was designed to make sure you are better off in work than on benefits.

Universal Credit will help with the cost of living as you move back into employment and you’ll still receive this support if you work more than 16 hours a week. If you’re a parent, you’ll be able to get help with childcare costs, even if you only work a few hours a week.

To claim Universal Credit, you’ll need to make a commitment to find work and follow this through. However, if you’re not able to work, you will still be able to claim Universal Credit.

As of January 2019, there were 1.6 million people claiming Universal Credit in the UK.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a benefit for people of working age. Brought in via the Welfare Reform Act 2012, it replaces the following six means-tested benefits:

  • income support
  • income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • housing benefit
  • child tax credit 
  • working tax credit

Universal Credit is being introduced in stages, which means that only new claimants (or those whose circumstances have changed) can apply at the moment.  

If you currently receive any of the above six benefits, you cannot claim Universal Credit yet. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will get in touch about moving you to Universal Credit.

How do I apply?

You can submit and manage a claim for Universal Credit online.

You’ll have to wait one month to be assessed and a further 7 days for the money to reach your bank account, which means that the application process can take up to five weeks. Once approved, a single monthly sum is paid directly into your bank account.

Couples living in the same house will receive one monthly payment which will be paid into a joint account or a single account in either person’s name. Any other claimants living in the same household will be paid separately.

If you don’t have enough money to live on whilst you’re waiting for your application, you can ask for an advance payment to cover any costs. This may even be approved the same day. You’ll start paying this money back from your first Universal Credit instalment and the full amount will need to be returned within 12 months. 

How is it paid?

Universal Credit is paid in arrears, which means each payment will be back-dated to cover the previous month. You’ll need to pay living costs from this single payment yourself, including housing costs, such as the rent. You are responsible for paying rent directly to your landlord.

You can ask for your payments to be made differently if it will help you manage your money and circumstances, this called an alternative payment arrangement (APA).

This agreement means you may be able to have:

  • your payments made more frequently
  • your rent paid directly to your landlord (also known as a ‘managed payment’)
  • your payments split between you and your partner.

APA’s are different in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In England and Wales, the rent can be paid directly to a landlord in some circumstances. When a claim is made, DWP will work with the claimant and landlord to decide if an APA is needed. If you live in Scotland and Northern Ireland, you can opt to receive payments once or twice a month and choose to have the rent paid directly to your landlord from the beginning.  

If you’re having difficulty paying the rent from your Universal Credit payments, your landlord can request for it to be paid directly to them if you owe more than one month’s rent in arrears (built up over a period of eight weeks or more).

You can also request an alternative payment arrangement if you are homeless, living in temporary accommodation or at risk of losing your home. The full list of criteria for alternative payment arrangements can be found on the Government’s website.

Am I eligible?

Whether you should apply for Universal Credit depends on your individual situation. You may be able to receive Universal Credit if:

  • you live in the UK
  • you’re on a low income or out of work
  • you and your partner have less than £16,000 in savings
  • you’re responsible for one or two children (if you have three or more children, apply for Child Tax Credit instead)
  • you’re 18 or over (there are some exemptions if you’re 16 or 17, see section A)
  • you’re NOT receiving the severe disability premium (or recently stopped receiving this)
  • you’re NOT in full time education or training (although there are some exemptions, see section B)
  • you’re under State Pension Credit qualifying age (see section C for alternative benefits)

A) If you’re 16 or 17…

If you’re aged 16 or 17, you can make a new Universal Credit claim if any of the following apply:

  • you have limited capability for work, or you have medical evidence and are waiting for a Work Capability Assessment
  • you’re caring for a severely disabled person
  • you’re responsible for a child
  • you’re in a couple with responsibility for at least one child and your partner is eligible for Universal Credit
  • you’re pregnant and it’s 11 weeks or less before your expected week of childbirth
  • you’ve had a child in the last 15 weeks
  • you do not have parental support, for example, you’re estranged from your parents and you’re not being cared for by the local authority

B) Students or trainees…

If you’re in training or studying full-time, you can make a new Universal Credit claim if any of the following apply:

  • you live with your partner and they’re eligible for Universal Credit
  • you’re responsible for a child, either as a single person or as a couple
  • you’re disabled and entitled to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and have limited capability for work
  • you’re in ‘non-advanced education’ (for example, studying for A levels or a BTEC National Diploma), are 21 or under and do not have parental support

C) State Pension Credit qualifying age

If you’ve reached Pension Credit qualifying age, you can only claim Universal Credit if you live with a partner who is eligible and under Pension Credit qualifying age. Use this tool to check your Pension Credit qualifying age.

If you’re both over the threshold age, you make a claim for Pension Credit as a couple instead.

What is a ‘live service’ and ‘full service’ area?

When Universal Credit was first introduced in June 2013, the IT system used to transfer existing claimants was called a ‘live service’. This system was tested and improved until a new ‘full service’ system was ready. 

In May 2016, the new ‘full service’ system replaced the existing ‘live service’, and the areas were the ‘live service’ had already been introduced gradually moved over to the new system.

The new full service has now reached all postcodes and all existing claimants should now be moved over. If you’ve not yet moved onto the new system, DWP will be in touch to arrange this.

When will I be moved over to Universal Credit?

DWP plans to start moving people who are currently on the existing six benefits over to Universal Credit from July 2019. There will be some extra money available to make sure you’re not worse off when you move onto the new system – this is called Transitional Protection.

Transitional Protection won’t be available to those who have had a natural change in their circumstances and have already moved onto Universal Credit.

How can a letting agent help?

If you need to find a property to rent from a private landlord in your area, use our find an agent tool to search for an ARLA Propertymark Protected agent. These agents are experienced and trained professionals who complete regular training to keep up-to-date with legislation and best practice.

Lettings agents are used to dealing with all kinds of different tenants, so don’t be worried about approaching one when looking for a place to rent.

How can my landlord help?

Your landlord may be able to assist you with your Universal Credit claim and using it to pay rent. Speak to them about providing up-to-date evidence of your current housing costs, as this can help any claim you make.

If you feel you will struggle paying them the rent through your personal bank account, discuss the possibility of setting up an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA); this will allow your Universal Credit payment for your rent to be sent straight to your landlord.

There are certain criteria that are taken into account to arrange an APA; examples include:

  • Currently being in arrears or having a history of rent arrears
  • Not being confident about managing a monthly budget
  • Any personal difficulties or issues

You can find out more about Alternative Payment Arrangements on the GOV site.

Remember, if you don't have an APA, then you will be responsible for paying the rent to your landlord directly once you receive your Universal Credit.

What shall I do next?

If you need to apply for Universal Credit, you can apply online or get some help with making your claim here. You’ll need to make sure you have all the right paperwork in place before starting your application, find out more.

The Government has also produced some guidance videos to help you get started with your claim.



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