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Universal credit (UC)

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F55

1. What is universal credit?

Universal credit is a new means-tested benefit that will eventually replace the following current means-tested benefits:

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

Other benefits (eg personal independence payment) will remain largely unchanged by the new system.

Universal credit does not depend on your national insurance contributions and is not taxable. You can claim universal credit if you are unable to work because of ill health or disability, if you are caring for someone, if you are looking for work or if you are working and your wages are low. You can claim it to cover just your needs if you are single, or those of your partner and/or children if you have a family.

Universal credit is being phased in over time (see section 10 below) and the current benefits will not disappear for some years.

Universal credit may entitle you to budgeting advances, free prescriptions and dental treatment, housing grants, free school meals and help with hospital fares. For more information, see the Disability Rights Handbook.

2. Who can claim universal credit?

To be eligible for universal credit, you must meet certain basic qualifying conditions. You must:

  • be aged 18 or over (or aged 16 or 17 in certain cases);
  • be under the qualifying age for pension credit (this is being raised from 60 to 66 between April 2010 and October 2020);
  • be in Great Britain - see below;
  • not be subject to immigration control;
  • not be in full-time education - see below; and
  • have accepted a ‘claimant commitment’ - see section 3 below.

In addition, you (and your partner if you are making a ‘joint claim’ - see below) must not have capital of more than £16,000 and any earnings or income you have must not be too high for any universal credit to be paid. See section 4 below for the calculation.

How do you claim?

You can claim Universal Credit online. If you need help, you can ring the universal credit helpline (0345 600 0723, textphone 0345 600 0743).

Joint claims

If you have a partner (including a same-sex partner), you must normally make a ‘joint claim’ for universal credit. In a joint claim, you and your partner must usually meet all the basic qualifying conditions above. However, you and your partner may still be entitled to universal credit as joint claimants if one of you is over pension credit qualifying age or in full-time education (as long as you both satisfy all the other basic qualifying conditions).

In Great Britain

To claim universal credit, you must:

  • be present in Great Britain (GB); and
  • be habitually resident and have the right to reside in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland.

‘Present’ means physically present in the GB. Sometimes you can be treated as present during a temporary absence.

The term ‘right to reside’ is not defined but is dependent on your immigration status and nationality. You might have a right to reside under UK rules, European Union law or because you are a British citizen.

The ‘habitual residence’ test looks at which country you normally live in. The test will be applied if you have been living abroad.

For more information, see the Disability Rights Handbook.

In education

You cannot normally claim universal credit if you are on a course of full-time advanced education. However, you may be able to claim universal credit even if you are on such a course if you are entitled to attendance allowance, disability living allowance or personal independence payment and you have been assessed as having a limited capability for work (see section 5 below).

For further information and the support that is available for disabled students, contact the Disabled Students Helpline: tel: 0800 328 5050 or email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org

3. Your responsibilities

To qualify for universal credit, you may need to meet certain work-related conditions, known as ‘requirements’. These are recorded in a ‘claimant commitment’. If you fail to meet a work-related requirement, your universal credit may be reduced or ‘sanctioned’. Limited hardship payments may be available if you get a sanction. In certain circumstances, none of the work-related requirements will apply to you (see below).

The work-related requirements

There are four different types of requirement:

  • work-focused interview requirement;
  • work-preparation requirement;
  • work-search requirement; and
  • work availability requirement.

Your circumstances will determine which of these applies to you.

The work-focused interview requirement

This is a requirement that you take part in one or more work-focused interviews. These are designed to assess your prospects and assist or encourage you to move into or stay in work.

The work-preparation requirement

This is a requirement that you take action to improve your chances of getting work. This can include taking part in training, work experience or an employment programme.

The work-search requirement

Here you are required to take all reasonable action to get paid work (or more work if you are already working part time). This can include:

  • searching for work;
  • applying for jobs;
  • creating and maintaining an online profile;
  • registering with employment agencies; and
  • seeking references.

You will be expected to search for work for a minimum amount of time each week. This is usually set at 35 hours, although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may agree to a reduced time if you have caring responsibilities or a physical or mental impairment. Similarly, you will be expected to look for work of a least 35 hours a week; again the DWP can agree to restrictions taking into account any caring responsibilities or impairment you may have.

The work-availability requirement

You are normally required to be able and willing to take up paid work (or more work if you are already working part time) immediately; you must also be able and willing to attend a job interview immediately.

However, the DWP can allow you up to one month to take up paid work, and up to 48 hours to attend a job interview, if you are caring for a child or someone with a ‘physical or mental impairment’, so that you can make alternative care arrangements.

The DWP can allow you up to one week to take up paid work, and up to 48 hours to attend a job interview, if you are carrying out voluntary work.

Where your ‘physical or mental impairment has a substantial adverse effect’ on your ability to carry out work of a particular nature or in a particular place, you cannot be expected to be available for such work or in such a place.

When do none of the work-related requirements apply?

In certain circumstances, none of the work-related requirements will apply to you. This will be the case if you:

  • have been assessed in the work capability assessment as having a ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’ (for more information, see Factsheet F71 - work capability assessment);
  • are responsible for a child under the age of one; or
  • have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person (see 5 below).

Other categories apply. For details, and information on the sanctions and hardship payments, see the Disability Rights Handbook.

4. How much is universal credit?

The amount of universal credit you are paid depends on your circumstances. It is worked out on a monthly basis by comparing your financial needs with your financial resources. If you are single, only your needs and resources are relevant. If you are claiming jointly with your partner, the needs and resources of both of you are relevant.

Set amounts for different financial needs are added together to arrive at a figure called your ‘maximum amount’. This is the basic amount the law says you need to live on each month. From this figure amounts are deducted for any earnings and other income you receive (see below). The resulting amount will be your universal credit for that month. This may be restricted by the ‘benefit cap’ (see section 8 below).  

The maximum amount

The maximum amount is made up of a ‘standard allowance’ and ‘amounts’, paid to cover different needs.

The standard allowance

This is the basic allowance, which is always included in your award. The amount you are entitled to depends on your age and whether you are claiming as a single person or jointly:

  • single claimant aged under 25 - £251.77
  • single claimant aged 25 or over - £317.82
  • joint claimants both aged under 25 - £395.20
  • joint claimants where either is aged 25 or over - £498.89

The amounts

The amounts are:

  • child amount;
  • housing costs amount;
  • work capability amount;
  • carer amount; and
  • childcare costs amount.

These are described in sections 5 and 6 below.

Earnings

The calculation of your earnings is based on a net figure after tax, national insurance contributions and any contribution you make to an occupational or personal pension scheme have been deducted. Employer-paid benefits (such as statutory sick pay or statutory maternity pay) are treated as earnings. 

In some circumstance, you may be allowed to keep some of your earnings up to a certain limit before your universal credit is affected; this is known as the ‘work allowance’ (see 7 below). Earnings in excess of the work allowance that applies in your case will reduce your universal credit by 63 pence in the pound.

Income

If you have income other than earnings, such as other benefits, these will usually be taken into account in full, so that your universal credit is reduced pound for pound. Some benefits are ignored, for example disability living allowance, attendance allowance and personal independence payment.

Capital and savings

Universal credit has a ‘lower capital limit’ and an ‘upper capital limit’. If you have savings or capital over the upper limit of £16,000, you cannot get universal credit. This figure applies if you are claiming as a single claimant or as a couple. If you have savings or capital at or below the lower limit of £6,000, your universal credit is unaffected.

If your capital is between these limits, it is treated as generating a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250 (or part of £250) above the lower limit of £6,000. For instance, if you have capital of £6,300, it is treated as generating a monthly income of £8.70.

5. Universal credit amounts

The child amount

A ‘child amount’ of £231.67 a month may be included in your award for each child or qualifying young person who normally lives with you.

A ‘qualifying young person’ is someone aged 16 to 18 (or 19 in some cases) who has enrolled on (or been accepted for) a course of full-time non-advanced education or approved training, who is not getting employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, income support or universal credit themselves.

A two-child limit was introduced on 6 April 2017; you can only get a child amount for a third or subsequent child (or qualifying young person) if they were already included in your universal credit award on that date. Limited exceptions apply (see the Disability Rights Handbook for details).

The child amount is paid at a higher rate of £277.08 a month for your eldest child or qualifying young person if they were already included in your universal credit award on 6 April 2017; otherwise the standard rate of £231.67 will apply to them.

Disabled child additions – An additional amount is included for each child or qualifying young person who is disabled. It is set at two different levels:

  • a higher rate - £372.30 a month for a child/qualifying young person who is entitled to the highest rate of the care component of disability living allowance (DLA), the enhanced rate of the daily living component of personal independence payment (PIP) or who is certified as severely sight impaired or blind by a consultant ophthalmologist; and
  • a lower rate - £126.11 for a child/young person who is entitled to any other rate of DLA or PIP.

The work capability amount

A ‘work capability amount’ of £318.76 a month (the higher rate) is included in your award if you have a ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’. This is determined by a ‘work capability assessment’. For more information, see F71 - work capability assessment

The work capability amount cannot always be included in your award immediately; a ‘waiting period’ of three months usually applies first of all. During this period, you should undergo the work capability assessment.

Before 3 April 2017, if you were only found to have a ‘limited capability for work’ at this assessment (and not a limited capability for work and work-related activity), a lower rate of the work capability amount of £126.11 could be included in your award. The lower rate does not normally apply to new claims for universal credit, but you may continue to receive it if it was included in your award on 3 April 2017.

The carer amount

A ‘carer amount’ of £151.89 a month is included in your award if you have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities’ for a severely disabled person. You are considered to have such responsibilities if you are eligible for carer’s allowance (see Factsheet F30 - carer’s allowance), although you do not have to actually claim that benefit.

You are not normally entitled to this amount as well as the work capability amount (see above) if you would otherwise be eligible for both; only the highest paid amount will be included in your award. However, if you have a ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’ and your partner is a carer, both amounts could be payable.

The childcare costs amount

This will be included in your award if you pay for registered child care in order to stay in work. There is no set number of hours you need to work to get this amount. You will get 85% of your relevant childcare costs met, up to a maximum amount of:

  • £646.35 for one child; and
  • £1108.04 for two or more children

If you are claiming jointly, your partner must also be in paid work, unless they are unable to look after the child because they:

  1. have a limited capability for work;
  2. have  regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person; or
  3. are temporarily away from home (ie are in prison, hospital or a care home).

Generally, the childcare must be provided by someone who is registered for child care or an equivalent. It does not include care provided by a close relative of the child wholly or mainly in the child’s home or care provided by a foster parent.

6. The housing costs amount

A ‘housing costs amount’ may be included in your award if you pay rent or have a mortgage. The amount can also cover some service charges.

Owner-occupiers

If you own your home, the housing costs amount may cover mortgage interest on loans secured on your property. There is normally a ceiling of £200,000 on the amount of loan that can be covered; this does not apply in the case of any loan taken out for the purpose of adapting your property to the needs of a disabled person. 

There will normally be a ‘qualifying period’ of nine months before the amount can be included in your universal credit award. You will not be entitled to the amount if you are in paid work.

Private tenants

If you are a private tenant, your housing costs amount will not necessarily cover all your rent but will be restricted to a set amount: the ‘cap rent’. This cap rent will depend on where your home is situated and the number of rooms you are deemed to need.

Deductions will be made from the amount if you have non-dependants living with you. A non-dependant is someone who lives with you who is not your partner, a child or young person you are responsible for, a joint tenant, boarder, lodger or sub-tenant. Typically, an adult son or daughter will be considered to be a non-dependant. The rules are similar to those in the current housing benefit scheme. For more information, see Factsheet F44 - housing benefit.

Social housing tenants

If you are renting social housing (from your local authority or from a housing association), your housing costs amount may be reduced if the property you rent is considered to be under occupied: the ‘bedroom tax’. For guidance on this, see Factsheet F57 - the bedroom tax. Deductions will be made from the amount if you have non-dependants living with you (see above).

If you are in ‘specified accommodation’ (eg a refuge if you are fleeing domestic violence or accommodation where care, support or supervision is provided to you), your housing support will continue to be met through housing benefit rather than universal credit. For more information on housing benefit, see Factsheet F44 - housing benefit.

Renters aged 18 to 21

If you are a renter aged at least 18 but under 22 you cannot normally get the housing costs amount. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, you can still get the housing costs amount if you:  

  • are responsible for a child or a qualifying young person;
  • cannot live with your parents for certain reasons;
  • are earning at least 16 times the National Minimum Wage hourly rate; or
  • you live in an area where there are restrictions on who can claim universal credit.

For more detailed information, see our Disability Rights Handbook.

Discretionary housing payments

You may be able to get ‘discretionary housing payments’ (DHPs) if your universal credit does not cover all your housing costs and your local authority accepts that you require some further financial assistance.

You must claim a DHP from your local authority; most local authorities will have a form on which to claim. You can view the Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual at www.gov.uk/government/publications/discretionary-housing-payments-guidance-manual

7. The work allowance

Some of your earnings may be disregarded by applying a ‘work allowance’. This will only apply if you or your partner:

  • are responsible for one or more children or qualifying young people (see section 5 above); or
  • have a limited capability for work (see section 5 above).

There are two different rates:

  • a ‘lower work allowance’ of £192; and
  • a ‘higher work allowance’ of £397.

The lower work allowance will apply if a housing costs amount is included in your award (see section 6 above). If a housing costs amount is not included in your award, the higher work allowance will apply instead. In each case, the same rate will apply whether you are a single claimant or claiming jointly with your partner. 

8. The benefit cap

There is a cap on the total amount of benefits, including universal credit, that you can claim

The benefit cap is:

Within Greater London

  • £1,284.17 a month if you are a single person (with no children)
  • £1,916.67 a month in all other cases

Outside Greater London

  • £1,116.67 a month if you are a single person (with no children)
  • £1,666.67 a month in all other cases

Benefits that are taken into account when calculating the cap include:

  • bereavement allowance and widowed parent’s allowance;
  • child benefit;
  • employment and support allowance
  • jobseeker’s allowance; and
  • maternity allowance.

The benefit cap will not apply if you, your partner or a dependent child are getting certain benefits, including attendance allowance, disability living allowance, personal independence payment or guardian’s allowance. It will not apply if the carer amount or the higher rate of the work capability amount has been included in your universal credit award (see section 5 above).

The benefit cap will not apply if your monthly earnings (or combined earnings, if you are in a couple) after tax and national insurance contributions are at or above the ‘earnings exemption threshold’, currently £520.

There is a ‘grace period’ of nine consecutive months when you will not be capped, if you were working for a year and your earnings (or combined earnings) for each month were at or above the earnings exemption threshold that applied at that time. This grace period normally starts from the day after you finished working, regardless of when your universal credit award starts. For example, if you finish work on 21 June 2017 and claim universal credit in September 2017, your nine months starts from 22 June 2017.

For information about how the benefits cap will apply if you are not yet eligible for universal credit or if you are still on housing benefit, see our factsheet F8 - benefit cap

9. Payment of universal credit

Normally, your universal credit is paid in arrears as a single payment each month. If you have a partner; you can choose who receives the payment. Alternative payment arrangements (eg bi-monthly payments) would only be made if the DWP considers that you could not manage with a single monthly payment; such arrangements would usually only be made for a temporary period.

The payment of universal credit may be more flexible than monthly in Scotland

If all the work-related requirements apply to you (see section 3 above), you will usually have to wait for seven days (the ‘waiting period’) before you are eligible to be paid universal credit.   

10. Timetable for universal credit

Universal credit has now been rolled out to all Jobcentre Plus areas across England, Scotland and Wales. The introduction has been delayed in Northern Ireland; the rollout there will start from 25 September 2017.

In some ‘gateway areas’, there are limitations on who can claim universal credit. There is an online web tool you can use to find out whether you can claim universal credit (based on your circumstances and the area you live in) at http://universalcreditinfo.net/

11. Transitional protection

You will not lose out immediately when you are moved onto universal credit if your circumstances remain the same. You will get ‘transitional protection’ if your universal credit is less than what you would have got under the old system. This will be an extra amount to make up the difference between the old and the new.

You will continue to get this until you are entitled to receive more under universal credit than under the old benefits (which could mean your universal credit is effectively frozen for several years). The transitional protection may be terminated if your circumstances change (eg if you separate from your partner or become one of a couple). The amount you receive will still be affected by the benefit cap (see section 8 above).

12. Where can I get more information?

This factsheet gives a basic introduction to universal credit. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. This and all our other publications are available from our shop. You can also place orders by contacting Disability Rights UK.

We have a number of related factsheets on our welfare reform page. All our factsheets are free to download on our website at disabilityrightsuk.org

The DWP has created a universal credit toolkit resource, for partner organisations, available at www.gov.uk/guidance/universal-credit-toolkit-for-partner-organisations

The DWP has published Advice for Decision Making which provides guidance on universal credit decision making. You can view this at www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-decision-making-staff-guide

Ian Greaves
6 June 2017

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