Universal Credit rolls out in Northampton from November 14th. So if you are presently on any of these six benefits:
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit
- Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
AND your circumstances change. You will probably have to make a claim for Universal Credit. Here’s the link to the Government information.
If you are claiming any of these benefits for the first time, you must claim Universal Credit.
If you are on any of the benefits listed above but your circumstances do not change you do not need to claim Universal Credit now. Note that many benefits are not included in Universal Credit. These include the State Pension and Pension Credit, Child Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Carers’ Allowance. You don’t need to claim Universal Credit for these.
You have to claim Universal Credit online. It should be accessible through your smartphone. However, in a very few circumstances, you may be able to claim by phone. And in a very few cases, you may be able to get someone to visit you to help with your claim. There’s a short leaflet on Universal Credit that you can download here or at the bottom of this webpage.
The slideshow below sets out more about claiming Universal Credit. The presentation was kindly provided by Camden Council.
Housing costs and Universal Credit
If you are on Housing Benefit you MUST remember to claim this when you claim your Universal Credit. For this you will need to know the name and address of your landlord, know your rent and other housing costs and have a copy of your tenancy agreement. This applies whether you are a Council or housing association tenant, or a private tenant.
Note that normally you will be paid the housing costs as part of your Universal Credit and will have to pay the rent yourself. In some circumstances you can apply to have it paid direct to your landlord. These are called Alternative Payment Arrangements. There’s more about them below.
Remember that Universal Credit is paid in arrears. Most landlords want rent in advance. This can result in rent arrears. See below for more information about getting an Advance Payment for your first month.
Universal Credit does not include help with Council Tax. You will still need to contact the Council about that.
If you own your own home and need help paying the mortgage, you can get help to pay the interest only – and only after 39 weeks. AND it will only be a loan, so you will have to pay it back.
If you’re in supported or temporary accommodation, included people affected by domestic abuse, there are special arrangements.
Below is a slideshow with more detailed information about housing and Universal Credit
Now you’ve got your Universal Credit – don’t lose it
Your Universal Credit claim will ONLY be complete ONCE you’ve signed your claimant’s commitment. This sets out the things you must do to be able to get your benefits. If you don’t do what is set out in your claimants commitment, then you may be sanctioned. This means that your benefits could be reduced. Only the personal allowance part of your benefits is reduced in sanctions. They do not affect your housing or childcare allowances. If you run into difficulties you can apply for a Hardship Payment.
Below are some slides about the claimant commitment and sanctions.
Flashpoints and payment blockers in Universal Credit
Below are some of the most frequent reasons people don’t get their Universal Credit claims processed:
- If you don’t complete your Universal Credit application within 28 days of setting up your online account, the application will be cancelled and you’ll have to start all over again.
- If you don’t book or keep your first appointment at your Job Centre your Universal Credit claim will be closed. That means you have to start all over again and won’t have access to your online account. It also means that you will not be able to backdate any later claim to cover this period. You have seven days once you’ve submitted your claim to phone up and book your appointment.
- If you don’t sign your claimant commitment your claim won’t be processed.
- You need to make sure you clear the “to-do” list in your online account for your claim to be processed.
You may find you get less money under Universal Credit than you did under your previous benefits. People who are more likely to lose out are:
- People who work variable hours. If you’re working extra hours in the run-up to Christmas, you may find that in December or January you get less Universal Credit – or none at all.
- People who have a disabled child: the allowance for a disabled child is lower under Universal Credit
- People who have a disability and are in work
- Two adult households in which both adults are working.
What do if things go wrong
There are these ways forward:
- Get in touch with your work coach. You are allocated a work coach when you submit your claim. You can contact the person through your online account.
- You can ask for a mandatory reconsideration. This means you ask the DWP to look again at what’s happened. You can do this by writing a message in your Universal Credit online account, or write to the DWP or phone, or fill in a CRM1 mandatory reconsideration request form which you can find here
- If that fails you can take the case to a tribunal. To do this you will need to fill in an SSCS1 form which you can find here. Taking a case to tribunal is difficult: so get advice and help from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or Community Law Service.
- Put in a new claim. However, you can’t get a new claim backdated. So for example if you forget to include your housing costs in your claim, you may be better off asking for a mandatory reconsideration and then get it backdated. If you put in a new claim you won’t be able to get it backdated to the date of your original claim.
- To help cover costs in the first five weeks before you get your Universal Credit you can apply for an Advance Payment. You can do this when you have your first interview at the Job Centre, or later through your online account.
Where to go for help – nationally
The Government’s information about Universal credit is here
Some organisations that provide information about Universal Credit are Money Advice Service – which also provides excellent advice on budgeting, Child Poverty Action Group and Citizen’s Advice Bureau The CAB’s excellent website on Universal Credit is here
Where to go for help – locally
In Northampton two of the most important sources of help are Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Community Law Service. They both provide excellent services.
- Citizen’s Advice has a one-stop service at the Guildhall. It is open the following days:
- Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 9.30 am to 3.00 pm
- Tuesdays and Fridays 9 am to 12.00 am.
- Citizens Advice will also be providing support for digital access and preparation for Universal Credit.
- Community Law Service’s website is here. It provides information at the Guildhall on these days:
- Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays 9-30am – 1pm
- Tuesday 12 noon – 3pm
- Thursday 9-30am – 1pm
- Community Law Service runs a Benefit drop-in surgery at the Guildhall on Thursdays from 9.30 am to 11.30 am. It also provides specialist housing advice and support, especially important for people who run into problems with rent arrears as a result of Universal Credit.
- The DWP has specialists working on homelessness, housing, refugees, ex-offenders, substance misuse, survivors of domestic abuse, mental health, troubled families, prison work coach, money advice, mental health, veterans and health and well-being. They work with the DWP’s partners.
Labour is running special Universal Credit advice surgeries
- Café Emm, Weston Favell Shopping Centre, the first Wednesday of every month, 11.30 am to 1.30 pm
- December 5th
- January 2nd
- February 6th
- Saturday January 5th at Weston Favell Library 11 am to 1 pm
- Saturday January 12th at Broadmead Avenue Baptist Church 10.30 am to 12.30
- Thursday January 17th at Community Café St Davids Church, Eastern Avenue North 10.30 am to 12.30
- Saturday January 19th at Milton St Methodist Church 11 am to 1 pm
And below is a two side summary that you can download on Universal Credit.