Advice Column: Universal Credit
I am about to apply for Universal Credit for the first time, but have been told that there is a six week wait before the first payment. I’m worried that I won’t be able to pay my bills. Is this right, and is there anything I can do?
Universal Credit is being introduced across the UK in stages. It will replace 6 ‘means-tested’ benefits – these are benefits you can get if your income and savings are below a certain level.
Universal Credit works differently from other benefits – so if you’re moving from another benefit 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 get a single payment each month, rather than weekly or fortnightly
- instead of getting a separate housing benefit, your housing costs will be paid directly to you as part of your monthly Universal Credit payment
You’ll get one monthly payment to cover your living costs. If you claim Universal Credit as a couple, you’ll get one payment for you and your partner.
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 have children – you’ll get more if you have childcare costs or have a disabled child
- you need help with housing costs
- you’re disabled or have a health condition
- you care for a disabled person
Check how much you might get on GOV.UK.
If you get help with rent
If you get help with rent, you’ll need to pay your landlord each month from your Universal Credit payment, even if you live in social housing.
If you’re working
You can work and still get Universal Credit – your Universal Credit will reduce gradually if you earn more. It will go up again if your job ends or you earn less.
Claiming other benefits if you get Universal Credit
You can get some other benefits at the same time as Universal Credit.
You should apply for Council Tax Reduction – if you get it, it won’t reduce the amount of Universal Credit you get.
You can also claim other benefits, including contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
These are benefits you can get if you have enough National Insurance contributions and you’re unemployed or can’t work because of illness or disability.
If you claim contribution-based JSA or ESA and you’re eligible for Universal Credit, your JSA or ESA will be called ‘new style’ by the government. If you get either of these benefits, your Universal Credit will be reduced, but it might still be worth claiming.
It’s best to contact your nearest Citizens Advice and speak to an adviser who can help you work out whether it’s worth claiming other benefits at the same time as Universal Credit.
When you’ll be paid
After applying for Universal Credit, there’s usually a five or six week wait before your first payment, which is explained during the application process.
Although you can’t be paid faster, there are things you can do to help tide you over.
As part of the claim process, you’ll usually attend an interview at the Jobcentre Plus.
At the interview ask if you can apply for an “advance payment” – this is a loan that will be deducted from your future benefits.
You’ll need to show how much money you need for essential bills like food and housing, and explain why the loan will protect you from serious financial difficulty – like being unable to pay your rent.
Alternatively, you can apply for an advance payment through the Universal Credit helpline on 0345 600 0723.
It’s best to apply as early as possible in your claim, as you may be turned down otherwise.
If you are refused an advance payment, you can ask the Jobcentre Plus for a reconsideration. Emergency assistance may be available if you are still turned down – Jobcentre Plus or Citizens Advice can inform of you of your next steps.
After your first Universal Credit payment, you’ll be paid monthly.
If you pay rent or have a mortgage and you think a payment will be late because you’re waiting to be paid, you should talk to your landlord or mortgage lender and explain.
Getting Universal Credit backdated
You can apply to get Universal Credit backdated if you couldn’t claim earlier, for example because:
- of illness
- of a disability
- you weren’t told that your jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) or employment and support allowance (ESA) was going to end
- the online claims system was down, and you claimed as soon as it was working again
You can get Universal Credit backdated for a maximum of one month.
Call the Universal Credit helpline if you want to backdate your claim.
Universal Credit helpline number if you have an online account
Telephone: 0345 600 4272
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
Universal Credit helpline number if you don’t have an online account
Telephone: 0345 600 0723
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
Calls can cost up to 9p a minute from a landline, or between 3p and 55p a minute from a mobile (your phone supplier can tell you how much you’ll pay). It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract. You can call and ask them to call you back.
For help with your application or more information on managing your money, contact Citizens Advice.
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