FROM advance payments to claiming freebies, we explain 14 things you need to know about Universal Credit.
The number of people claiming Universal Credit has risen due to the coronavirus crisis.
A staggering 5.8million people were claiming Universal Credit as of November 2020, according to the latest figures from the government.
Meanwhile, the number of Brits who are unemployed rose to 4.9% last month with 1.69million people now jobless.
If you’re new to Universal Credit, we explain how the benefit system works and the extra help you could claim.
The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work
UNIVERSAL Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment.
By the time the system is fully rolled out in 2023, nearly 7million will be on it.
But there are big problems with the flagship system – it takes five weeks to get the first payment and it could leave some families worse off by thousands of pounds a year.
And while working families can claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs, they must find the money to pay for childcare upfront – we’ve heard of families waiting up to six months for the money.
Working parents across the country told us they’ve been unable to take on more hours – or have even turned down better paid jobs or more hours because of the amount they get their benefits cut.
It’s time to Make Universal Credit work. We want the government to:
- Get paid faster: The government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop millions from being pushed into debt.
- Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4million families.
- Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85% of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.
Together, these changes will help Make Universal Credit Work.
Join our Universal Credit Facebook group or email UniversalCredit@the-sun.co.uk to share your story.
1. Universal Credit rolls six benefits into one
Universal Credit replaces six benefits, including Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit, into one payment.
The benefits it replaces includes:
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Working Tax Credit
Universal Credit is paid monthly if you live in England or Wales, or twice a month for some people in Scotland.
2. You can't have more than £16,000 in savings
To qualify for Universal Credit, you can't have more than £16,000 in savings – this includes in your partner's savings if you're applying for a joint claim.
You should also note that any payments you are entitled to will be reduced by £4.35 for every £250 you have in savings, if you have £6,000 or more.
There's other criteria that you have to meet in order to claim Universal Credit.
- You’re on a low income or out of work
- You’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re 16 to 17)
- You’re under state pension age (or your partner is)
- You live in the UK
3. You get a standard allowance
The standard monthly allowance – the amount everyone is entitled to – if you’re single and under 25 is currently £342.72, or £409.89 if you’re older.
If you and your partner are both under 25, it is £488.59 for you both – or £594.04 for over 25s.
But you could be entitled to more, depending on your individual circumstances.
Here are all the extra elements you may be entitled to, on top of the standard allowance:
- Child element
- Housing costs element
- Capability for work elements
- Carer element
- Childcare element
There are a number of free calculators that you can use to help you get an estimate, such as Gov.uk, Citizen's Advice, MoneySavingExpert, StepChange and Turn2Us.
4. But payments could drop this year
The standard allowance has been temporarily boosted by £20 per week – equivalent to £1,040 per year – in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But this higher amount is due to end in April 2021, meaning claimants look set to see payments decreased.
There have been calls for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to keep it the same.
However, there's been no word on when the government could make a decision.
5. The amount you're paid changes each month
Universal Credit is calculated each month based on how much income you get during an assessment period.
Your assessment period starts on the day you first made your Universal Credit claim.
So for example, if you claim for Universal Credit today, January 14, your assessment period will run from January 14 until February 13.
Your second assessment period will then run from February 14 until March 13.
The Department for Work and Pensions will let you know how much to expect one week after your assessment period – so your first payment for the above dates would be on February 20.
This can be tricky for some families, as you don't know what you're being paid until the payment is due.
People who are paid on different days every month may also find that they have two wages paid into their account during the same assessment period.
This could then mean that your income looks like it's too high to qualify for Universal Credit that month, despite the amount of cash earned remaining the same.
If you're paid the same amount on the same day each month, and no other circumstances have changed, your Universal Credit amount should stay the same.
6. How much you earn affects your payments
If you’re employed, your Universal Credit payment will reduce by 63p for every £1 you earn.
This is known as the taper rate and is designed to encourage claimants back into work.
There’s no limit to how many hours you can work.
If you've got a job and a child who depends on you, or you can't work as much because of an illness, then you may be qualify for a work allowance.
This is the amount you can earn every month before the taper rate kicks in.
If you get help with your housing costs then this will be set at £292, or £512 if you don't.
7. Your payments can be reduced
You can be subject to deductions on your Universal Credit payments.
For example, your benefit can be reduced to pay back any debts or loans you may have, or if you've been previously overpaid Universal Credit.
Normally the most that can be taken from your payment is 30% of your Universal Credit standard allowance.
But you may have more than 30% taken off if you pay a "last resort deduction" – this helps to prevent you from being evicted or having your utilities cut off.
It is paid directly to the person or organisation you owe money to.
8. There's a five-week wait for your first payment
It usually takes around five weeks to get your first payment.
This is something The Sun wants to change through our Make Universal Credit Work campaign, with this paper asking the Government to slash the wait time to just two weeks.
We estimate this would help stop 7million people from being pushed into debt.
If you’re really struggling while you wait for your first payment, you can apply for an advance payment.
9. An advance payment needs to be paid back
An advance payment means you could get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for your first payment.
But as this is a loan, you’ll need to repay it, with the money owed taken out of future Universal Credit payments.
The most you can get as an advance is the amount of your first estimated payment.
You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.
You’ll need to:
- Explain why you need an advance
- Verify your identity
- Provide bank account details
How to cut your bills
IF you’re struggling financially, you might be able to cut the cost of your bills to help you get out of the red.
Council tax: You can apply for a council tax reduction on the Gov.uk website but you'll need to meet certain criteria. Your bill could be cut by as much as 100 per cent if you’re on a low income or claim benefits. Carers who look after someone in the household for at least 35 hours a week are also exempt from paying.
Water: Households might be able to save money by getting a water meter but it all depends on how much you're using. To check if it's finacially worthwhile, use the Consumer Council for Water's free ater meter calculator.
Rent: If you have the space available and your landlord or local authority says it's ok to do so, you might want to consider getting a flatmate. Not only will you split the cost of the rent, but also the other bills.
Hire purchase: If you're struggling to make your repayments on your hire purchase, you can usually end the contract by returning the goods. You will have to pay all the instalments due up to the time you end the agreement but this will limit the amount you owe. Contact Citizens Advice for free for more help with this.
Gas and electricty: MoneySavingExpert says families can save £330 on average by switching from Standard Variable Tariffs (SVTs) to a better rate. Use a comparison site such as MoneySuperMarket or Energyhelpline to see what deals are available.
Mortgage: If you get into debt with your mortgage payments, don't wait for your lender to chase you. Work out what you can afford using the Citizens Advice budgeting tool so you can discuss your payment options moving forward with your mortgage provider.
Secured Loan: Your secured loan might be covered by the Consumer Credit Act and if it is, you may be able to apply for a Time Order. This is a special agreement by the courts allowing you more time to make payments. Secured loans not covered by the Consumer Credit Act include gas, electricity or water meters, payments that need to be written off in full, mortgages, credit union loans, loans from an employer and some short term trade agreements.
County Court Judgements: If you receive a County Court claim form talk to a free debt advice service straight away. This includes Citizens Advice (0808 800 9060), StepChange (0800 138 1111) and the National Debtline (0808 808 4000).
TV licence: Some households are eligible for a reduced fee or free TV Licence. Pensioners over the age of 75 currently get a free TV licence, although this is due to change later in 2020. Check here to see if you are entitled to a reduced or free rate.
10. There's also a budgeting advance
A budgeting advance is different to an advance payment, with this cash being used for emergencies such as buying a new cooker, or money you need to get a new job.
It’s still a loan though, which again means that it needs to be repaid and will be deducted from future Universal Credit payments.
The maximum you can get for a budgeting advance is £348 if you’re single with no children or £464 if you are a couple with no children.
If you do have children, you can get up to £812 as a loan.
To get a budgeting advance, you must have:
- Been getting Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or State Pension Credit for six months or more, unless you need the money to help you start a new job or keep an existing job
- Earned less than £2,600 (£3,600 jointly for couples) in the past six months
- Paid off any previous budgeting advances
You can apply for a budgeting advance by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
11. Or you can ask for alternative payment arrangements
You could ask to change how you're paid through an alternative payment arrangement.
This is typically given to claimants who can't manage their finances or are struggling with their rent.
As part of the help, you may be able to get your payments more frequently, have your money sent straight to your landlord, or split your payment if you're part of a couple.
You should discuss an Alternative Payment Arrangement through the following methods:
- Your online Universal Credit account
- By speaking to your work coach or case manager
- By phoning Universal Credit on 0800 328 5644
12. You can get help with your council tax
It's possible for Universal Credit claimants to reduce their council tax by up to 100%.
The help available depends on your circumstances – for example, your household income, whether you have children, whether you're in work, and whether you own your home or rent it.
It also depends on your local council as schemes vary.
Use Gov.uk to find out if your local council offers a council tax reduction – sometimes known as council tax support – and how to apply.
There’s a different scheme available in Northern Ireland.
13. You can get help from a food bank
Your local food bank may be able to provide you with free food or toiletries if you'r really struggling.
Families and individuals are usually referred to a food bank.
This is typically done through professionals including doctors, health visitors, social workers and Citizens Advice.
Once referred, the person gets a voucher that can be redeemed for an emergency parcel with a minimum of three days worth of food.
You can find your nearest food bank on the Trussell Trust website.
14. You can claim freebies and discounts
You could get help with the cost of your broadband, NHS prescriptions, travel and more if you claim Universal Credit.
Other support includes money toward school uniforms, free school meals for kids and cold weather payments.
We've rounded up ten of the best freebies or discounts here.
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FROM advance payments to claiming freebies, we explain 14 things you need to know about Universal Credit.