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Our guide to: Universal credit

September 06 2013
What is the new benefits systems and how will it affect you?

 

If you’ve not heard of Universal Credit, you soon will. The new benefits system, officially set to launch this October, aims to simplify the way we receive government support. Yet few people seem to know what it is – let alone how it will affect them. What’s more the small print is still being tweaked as new issues arise in pilot projects and certain postcodes of Greater Manchester where the new system was tentatively introduced in April.

Despite a general recognition that the existing benefits system is in need of reform, many commentators and organisations are worried about the impact Universal Credit will have on claimants – and the speed at which it’s being implemented.

If the Public and Commercial Services Union is right and 19 million people in 8 million households will receive Universal Credit, let’s hope the government is ready for 17.5 million confused phone calls.

 

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a new benefits system being introduced across the UK from this October.

 

How will I be affected?

Instead of receiving your benefits separately, you’ll get one single, monthly payment. Universal Credit replaces six existing benefits: Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

 

What do I need to do?

If you already receive benefits, government guidance says you’ll be contacted about how and when Universal Credit will affect you. The new system is being introduced slowly – between this October and 2017 – starting with new claimants, so you might not be affected straight away.

 

Can I choose to have my Housing Benefit paid directly to my landlord?

No, your housing costs will be paid to you as part of your Universal Credit lump sum. So it will be your responsibility to budget your monthly payments and pay your rent.

However, there are some safety nets in place: for example, if you fail to pay your rent for two months, your Universal Credit advisor will ‘switchback’ to paying Housing Benefit directly to your landlord and periodically review your case.

They may also make an exception and pay Universal Credit more frequently than once a month.

 

What if I’m in supported accommodation?

If you’re in what’s called ‘support exempt accommodation’, your Housing Benefit will continue to be paid directly to your landlord or housing provider, separate from Universal Credit. The Universal Credit Regulations 2013 defines ‘support exempt accommodation’ as accommodation provided by an upper-tier county council, housing association, registered charity or voluntary organisation. That accommodation should also provide “care, support or supervision” – something not offered by by the large majority of homeless hostels, according to Homeless Link.

 

How will I claim Universal Credit?

The Universal Credit system is ‘digital by default’, which means you’ll need to fill out a form online. Without internet access or not tech savvy? The government’s advice is: “Your local council will be able to provide internet access and face-to-face advice. You’ll also be able to use the computers at your local Jobcentre.” After applying, you’ll then go for a face-to-face interview and, before you can start receiving payments, you’ll need to sign a ‘Claimant Commitment’.

 

What’s a Claimant Commitment?

It’s the equivalent of the current jobseeker’s agreement: a document you sign agreeing to follow Universal Credit’s regulations. The requirements will depend on which of the four categories you fall into: the all-work related requirement group, the work-focused interview only group, the work preparation group or the no work-related requirement group. If you don’t fulfil your obligations with “good reason” you’ll be subject to sanctions.

 

What are the sanctions?

You could lose up to 100 per cent of your Universal Credit standard allowance (£246.81 per month for single claimants under 25) for a specified period. The percentage depends on your age, dependents, capacity for work and whether you’re being hit with higher, medium, low-level or lowest-level sanctions. Universal Credit sanctions run consecutively (one after the other) – so if you could be face reductions in your benefits for up to three years.

 

Find out more: gov.uk/universal-credit/overview

•  Tell us what you think about changes to your benefits: editor@thepavement.org.uk or @ThePavementMag

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