Universal Credit Guide
I have signed on for Universal Credit twice in my life. It has a bad reputation, mostly due to the fact you have to wait 5 weeks for any money to be paid out and there are sanctions should you not stick to your commitments (explained later in this article).
However, if you are unable to find work, are on a low income or have had all of your work pulled due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Sign on as quickly as you can! We must do everything we can to get through this.
Note: The government will be making updated to benefits and I will endeavour to keep this article updated as much as possible.
How to claim Universal Credit
Many of you will have been affected by job losses, redundancy or lack of work in recent weeks. So I thought I would write up a guide to signing on for Universal Credit. Whatever you do. Do it as soon as possible! The longer you wait, the longer it will be for you to receive any money.
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a benefit which you may be entitled to if you are on a low income or out of work. It has replaced Jobseeker’s Allowance in many places around the UK. You may be entitled to a living allowance as well as getting financial help with your housing.
How can I make a claim?
Start by checking to see if Universal Credit is available in your area. You will need an email address and a mobile phone to make a claim. Check out the information captured below from the Government website.
Use this service to:
- create a Universal Credit account
- make a claim
- join your partner’s claim
You must have an email address. You will also need access to your mobile phone (if you have one).
You will need to create an account with a secure username, password and security questions. The username and password are important as this are how you access the Universal Credit portal, with information about your job searches, work note and payments.
Once you have made an application and have been asked a series of questions about your circumstances. You will be asked for an interview. At the moment you may face a long wait but persevere. If you don’t follow up straight away, you claim will get shut down. Unfortunately today one of my friends was on the line for hours, with over 79,000 people in the queue ahead of her. Don’t give up! So many people are trying to claim at once, but persevere!
Check your eligibility
The government have outlined a set of criteria which means you may be able to get Universal Credit. These are:
- 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 and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
- you live in the UK
If you live with your partner. Their income and savings will be taken into account, even if they are not eligible for Universal Credit.
How much will I get?
You can find a full breakdown of how much you can receive on the government website. You may also be entitled to help with your housing on top of the monthly standard allowance below. It may not seem a lot compared to what you have been previously earning, but this amount will be able to sustain you. Below is a guide but the final payment will be dependent on your own unique personal circumstances. The government have stated that Universal Credit is to increase, so I will update this section when the figures have been confirmed.
|Your circumstances||Monthly standard allowance|
|Single and under 25||£251.77|
|Single and 25 or over||£317.82|
|In a couple and you’re both under 25||£395.20 (for you both)|
|In a couple and either of you are 25 or over||£498.89 (for you both)|
Making an appointment
You will need to make an appointment to have your Universal Credit application accepted. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, you will not need to book a face-to-face appointment, which is how they normally process all claims. You will need to book an appointment by phone.
Unfortunately, I have been told that due to the sheer number of people applying, their call queues have been extremely busy. People have been on the phone for hours with over 79,000 people in the call queue for one of my friends today. Keep holding to book an appointment so that your claim doesn’t get closed down as there is a limited amount of time to make a claim. Your interview won’t be immediate and you will not be able to backdate your claim. So, it’s important to do this as soon as you can.
What you’ll need
You’ll need accurate information for your interview. Evidence includes your rental agreement, former 3 bank statements, payslips and any other income or savings you may have.
- income, including your partner’s (from payslips, for example)
- existing benefits and pensions (including anyone living with you)
- outgoings (such as rent, mortgage, childcare payments)
- council tax bill
Can I apply for a loan?
If you are unable to wait for 5 weeks until your Universal Credit payments come through, you can apply for a loan. Note that this will be taken out of the money you eventually receive. This is not guaranteed but your agent will assess whether you can get one. Just to be clear that Universal Credit is a benefit, not a loan.
Commitments – what are they?
Once you have been screened for a Universal Credit claim and it has been accepted. You will need to sign up to your Commitments. You will agree to spend your working week applying and looking for jobs. Everything needs to be documented on your portal as proof. If you don’t keep to your commitments, you may then be ‘sanctioned’. The explanation provided below.
Universal Credit platform
Once you have signed up to Universal Credit and can log in. You will see this portal below. The Home screen shows all of the tabs you can access.
My commitments document the agreement you have made between yourself and your agent. You will need to send an updated CV, agree where and how you will be looking for work. This is different for each individual.
View to-do List will track anything that needs to be completed or is outstanding and needs to be done. It is a form of communication between you and your agent.
Journal is a way to communicate with your agent and document anything else which is not captured in your To-do list.
Job Applications section will need to be filled in with details of jobs you apply for. It’s useful to keep track of them using this section. More importantly, this will prove that you are looking for work.
Payments probably seem the most important bit to you right now. In this section, you will be told how much you are to be paid for the forthcoming month in a financial statement, which is updated in this section each month. Your payment date is the same each month, but the actual payment amount will be confirmed closer to the payment date and may change depending on your circumstances. So for example, I will receive a confirmation on the 7th of the month to confirm the amount that I will receive on 11th. Each person is different depending on which date they signed on.
Universal Credit Guide
I have documented the guide as outlined on the Government Universal Credit website. Details below may be subject to change over the next few days. Keep checking the Universal Credit website for details.
About Universal Credit
Universal Credit can support you when you’re:
- looking for work
- self-employed or starting your own business
- working part-time as a stepping stone into full-time work
- studying part-time
- disabled or affected by a health condition
- caring for someone
- on a low income
Where we expect you to prepare for work, look for work, or earn more, you’ll discuss your commitment with your work coach.
Your commitment will be updated as your circumstances change.
You can always see your commitment in your Universal Credit account.
If you are unwell or unable to look for work
Your commitment will be tailored to your circumstances and will take your health and other circumstances into account.
If you are part of a couple
If you are claiming Universal Credit and you live with your partner, you’ll both need to agree your own commitment.
If you do not keep to your commitment
Your Universal Credit payments will be reduced if you do not do the things in your commitment and do not have a good reason.
This is called a payment ‘sanction’.
What are sanctions?
If you do not keep up with your commitments you may incur sanctions, which will affect your payments. Make sure you constantly refer back to your agreements, upload evidence of your job searches and keep all appointments.
If your circumstances change
It’s important you tell us about any changes straight away. For example, if you:
- change address
- find work
- stop working or reduce the hours you work
- pay for childcare for when you’re working
You can use your online account to do this.
Your first payment
You’ll usually get your first Universal Credit payment around 5 weeks after you apply.
We cannot say how much you’ll get in your first payment until a couple of days before you get paid.
This is because the exact amount depends upon your circumstances. For example, if you’re caring for someone, or if you received any income or earnings.
Check how much you might get on GOV.UK.
Getting financial help before your first payment
If waiting for your first Universal Credit payment will put you in financial difficulties you may be able to get an advance payment. You can ask for an advance using your online account
You may also be able to get help with your rent from your local council. This is known as a discretionary housing payment. Contact your local council for more information.
Other benefits that will stop with Universal Credit
- Working Tax Credits
- Child Tax Credits
- Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
One monthly payment
You’ll get Universal Credit payments monthly, usually on the same day of the month. You need to make sure your Universal Credit payment lasts all month.
If you find budgeting difficult at any point during your Universal Credit claim, you should speak to your work coach. You may be able to get:
- some of your payment made directly to your landlord to cover rent
- your payments made weekly or fortnightly
- your payments split into 2 bank accounts instead of 1 (if you are part of a couple, and want to manage your money yourself)
You can also get help with budgeting on GOV.UK.
Working and getting Universal Credit
Universal Credit is designed to make sure that you’re better off in work by topping up your wages each month.
Your Universal Credit payment reduces gradually as you earn more. And it will go up again if you start to earn less or your job ends.
Use a benefits calculator to see how starting a job or increasing your working hours will affect your payment amount.
You will need to pay back an advance payment.
You can apply for an advance:
- before your first Universal Credit payment
- if you were getting another benefit before claiming Universal Credit
- if you need help with emergency costs, such as a new cooker
- if you have told us about a change that means you’ll be paid more but have not yet had the increased amount
You can apply for an advance payment in your account or through your work coach.
Paying back your advance
An agreed amount is taken from your Universal Credit payments to repay your advance. If you want to repay your advance in full contact Debt Management Service on 0800 916 0647.
You may not be able to apply for another until your previous advances have been repaid.
If you cannot afford to pay back your advance
You can ask Universal Credit to delay your repayments if you cannot afford them or will fall into debt.
If you no longer get Universal Credit
If you no longer get Universal Credit you will still need to repay your advance. For example, by deductions from your wages. Your details will be passed on to our Debt Management Service who will contact you about repayments.
More information about advances
Speak to your work coach or read more details about advances on GOV.UK.
Looking for work
If your commitment includes looking for work, you’ll need to do everything you reasonably can to prepare for and find work.
This can include:
- preparing your CV
- writing a CV cover letter
- researching employers and transport links
- applying for suitable jobs
- following up on applications to jobs
- networking with friends, family and social media
- preparing for an interview
You can record all your work search activities in the journal section of your Universal Credit account. This helps you and your work coach keep track of your progress.
Talk to your work coach if you want to become self-employed. If you’ve already started working for yourself, you must report this change of circumstances as soon as possible.
We’ll give you a to-do each month asking you to tell us your self-employed income. You’ll also need to tell us what you spent on tax, National Insurance, pensions and other expenses.
If you do not do this then your Universal Credit payment will be delayed or stopped. We may ask for receipts for any expenses you claim.
Finding out if you’re gainfully self-employed
Your work coach might book an appointment to find out if you’re ‘gainfully self-employed’.
This means your work is:
- your main job
- expected to make a profit
- developed, regular and organised – for example, you advertise your business, have work arranged for the future or have necessary equipment or licences
You’ll need to bring documents such as:
- invoices, receipts and accounts
- letters from HMRC
- your business plan, if you have one
If you’re gainfully self-employed
If we decide that you’re gainfully self-employed, you will not need to look for other work to receive Universal Credit. You can concentrate on running your business.
When we work out your payment each month, we’ll base it on whichever is higher – your actual earnings or the ‘minimum income floor’.
The minimum income floor is based on what an employed person on minimum wage would earn in similar circumstances to yours. We’ll treat you as having earned at least that much every month.
Your work coach will tell you what your minimum income floor is.
The start-up period
If you started your self-employment in the last year we may give you a ‘start-up period’ of up to 12 months. This is to give you time to build up your business and start to earn more money. During this time we will not apply the minimum income floor. Your payments will be based on how much you actually earn.
If you stop being self-employed
You need to tell us straight away if your self-employment has ended.
Rent and Housing Costs
You may get money towards your rent or mortgage interest payments as part of your Universal Credit payment. You will be responsible for paying your own rent.
You may need to show evidence, for example:
- a contract or written rent agreement with your landlord
- current rent statement or rent book
- signed letter from your landlord
We’ll tell you exactly which documents you need to bring.
Getting your rent paid directly to your landlord
You can ask for your rent to be paid directly to your landlord if this will help you with budgeting. This option will not be suitable for everyone.
Ask your work coach about alternative payment arrangements to find out more.
Getting money off your council tax
You can apply to get money off your council tax. Apply for a council tax reduction on GOV.UK.
This is a separate application process as Universal Credit does not include money towards your council tax.
Help with childcare costs
Universal Credit can pay back up to 85% of the money you spend on childcare.
The most you can get back each month is:
- £646.35 for one child
- £1108.04 for 2 or more children
Your childcare costs are eligible if you:
- are working
- have been offered a job that starts within the next 2 months
- stopped paid work less than 2 months ago
If you’re claiming as part of a couple, your partner will also need to be working unless:
- their health affects their ability to work
- they care for a severely disabled person
- they’ve been away from home for 6 months or more
You can also claim childcare costs if you or partner are receiving Statutory Sick Pay, Statutory Maternity Pay, Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay, Additional Statutory Paternity Pay, Shared Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Maternity Allowance.
You cannot claim childcare costs you paid before you started receiving Universal Credit.
Your childcare provider
Childcare providers must be approved or registered with OFSTED in England, the Care Inspectorate in Scotland or the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).
This can include care provided in a school or in another place by a childminder, play-scheme, nursery or club.
Your childcare provider should be able to provide you with a registration number.
Find out how to get help with childcare costs on GOV.UK.
Reporting childcare costs
You should report your childcare costs on the same day you pay them or you may not get your money back. You can do this in your online account.
If you pay for childcare in advance, we’ll pay back your costs over the months the childcare covers. You can claim up to 3 months of future childcare costs at a time.
If you pay for childcare after it’s been provided, we’ll pay back your costs in the same month that you report them. You can claim up to 3 months of past childcare costs at a time. There may be a limit to how much you get back if you claim for more than one month’s costs.
If you need help with paying up-front costs, you should speak to your work coach.
Proof of your provider and payment
You need to show us proof of your childcare provider. This can be a contract, invoice or letter from them showing:
- their name, registration number, address and phone number
- which children they look after
- the type of childcare, for example after school or nursery care
You only need to do this once for each provider.
We may also ask to see proof of your payment. This could be:
- a receipt or bank statement showing how much you paid and when
- an invoice from your provider on headed paper marked as ‘paid’
You must show proof of your provider and payment within one month of reporting your costs.
Help with child maintenance arrangements
You can get help with organising child maintenance payments from Child Maintenance Options. This is a free and impartial service for parents who live separately.