Advice Column: Universal Credit Scams
I’ve heard there are Universal Credit scams. What is Universal Credit and what should I look out for?
Universal Credit has replaced these benefits for most people:
- Housing Benefit
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit
- Income Support
You might be able to get Universal Credit if you’re not working or you’re on a low income.
Universal Credit works differently from the old benefits – so it’s important to know the differences.
The biggest differences are:
- you can get Universal Credit if you’re unemployed but also if you’re working
- you’ll usually get a single payment each month, rather than weekly or fortnightly
- instead of getting a separate housing benefit, your rent will usually be paid directly to you as part of your monthly Universal Credit payment
How Universal Credit works
You’ll usually get one monthly payment to cover your living costs. If you claim Universal Credit as a couple, you and your partner will get one payment between the 2 of you. The payment is made up of a basic ‘standard allowance’ and extra payments that might apply to you depending on your circumstances.
You might be able to get extra payments if you:
- look after one or more children
- work and pay for childcare
- need help with housing costs
- are disabled or have a health condition
- are a carer for a disabled person or you have a disabled child
You can check how much you might get on GOV.UK.
If you get help with rent
If your UC payment includes help with rent, you’ll usually need to pay your landlord each month from your Universal Credit payment, even if you live in social housing. You can ask the DWP to pay your rent directly to your landlord if you’re in debt, have rent arrears or are struggling with money.
If you’re working
You can work and still get Universal Credit – your Universal Credit will reduce gradually as you earn more. Your Universal Credit will go up if your job ends or you earn less.
If you’re self-employed, your payment might also be affected by how much the DWP expect you to earn each month – this expected amount is called your ‘minimum income floor’.
Claiming other benefits if you get Universal Credit
You should apply for Council Tax Reduction – if you get it, it won’t reduce the amount of Universal Credit you get.
If you’re disabled, you should check if you’re eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). If you’re responsible for a disabled child, you should check if you can claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for your child. Getting PIP or DLA won’t reduce the amount of Universal Credit you get.
You can also claim other benefits if you have enough national insurance contributions. For example:
- if you’re unemployed, check if you can claim contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), also called ‘new style’ JSA
- if you can’t work because of illness or disability, check if you can claim contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), also called ‘new style’ ESA
If you get either of these benefits, your Universal Credit will be reduced, but it might still be worth claiming.
Smartly-dressed scammers in Merseyside and Derbyshire have been offering to help people to get interest free government loans or quick cash in return for a fee. There is no case in Cumbria yet as far as we know but people should be vigilant.
Some have been going door-to-door, pretending to be DWP staff calling to help people to make claims for Universal Credit.
Others have approached people in pubs, offering them money in return for proof of identity and their bank account details.
Some of these fraudsters have even approached people when they are leaving the Jobcentre.
They then set up a universal credit claim in your name and get you an advance payment. The cheats then charge the victims for the ‘service’ which is normally half of the payment advance – at an average cost of about £400.
These advance payments are usually to help you get by while you’re waiting for your first payment. You can also ask for an advance payment if your circumstances have changed and you expect your Universal Credit payments to increase.
The scammers don’t tell you that making a claim for Universal Credit stops all your other benefit and tax credit claims, and that you can’t go back on these once you have made a claim for universal credit. Most people receive less money on Universal Credit than they get on existing (what are called ‘legacy’) benefits.
You will also have to pay back all of your loan from your benefits, including the money the scammer takes from you.
Often the individual does not realise they have been scammed or signed up to universal credit until their legacy benefit has stopped being paid, and the person approaches their local jobcentre where they are informed they have moved onto universal credit, with an advanced payment to repay.
What you can do
If someone tries to scam you, call the police.
If you need help to claim Universal Credit, contact Jobcentre Plus on 0800 328 5644 or Citizens Advice Help To Claim Service on 0800 144 8444 or visit citizensadvice.org.uk.
DWP and Citizens Advice staff NEVER cold call to make benefit claims.