What is Universal Credit? How will it affect you?
Universal Credit is a single payment for those entitled to financial help. Instead of having lots of different benefits, you get one payment each month which you’ll need to manage yourself. Universal Credit was introduced a few years ago and so far around two million people have claimed it. It’s expected over six million individuals will sign up by the time it’s fully rolled out in 2024.
If you’ve not used it before, here’s all you need to know.
- What is Universal Credit?
- Who gets Universal Credit?
- The pros and cons of Universal Credit
- What do you need to do?
- How does it affect Pension Credit?
- How can you get help and information on Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income. Since its roll-out in 2013, it replaced all the various bits and pieces of benefits and credits you used to get:
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Income Support
- Child Tax Credits
- Working Tax Credits
- Housing Benefit
The main differences between Universal Credit and the former welfare system are:
- Universal Credit is available to people in work on a low income and those who are out of work
- You can apply and manage your claim online rather than having to go to a government office
- Universal Credit changes as people on low incomes move in and out of work. The idea is that they’ll get ongoing support which should give people more incentive to work for any period of time that is available
- Your claim isn’t immediately closed if you get a job with fluctuating hours or you decide to go self-employed
- Most people on low incomes tend to be paid Universal Credit when they first start a new job or increase their part-time hours
- You receive one payment each month straight into your bank account just like a salary. The government wants people who are out of work to get into the habit of managing their money in the same way as those who work do
- Support with housing costs will go directly to the claimant as part of their monthly payment.
Some of the changes caused by Universal Credit:
- Instead of the Disability Living Allowance you now have a Personal Independence Payment
- A system of localised support replaced Council Tax Benefit
- Pension Credit now includes help with eligible rent and dependent children
- Social Fund was reformed to introduce new local assistance
Universal Credit affects anyone claiming benefits or tax credits. Instead of having different payments or credits coming in, you now get one payment – plus perhaps separate help with council tax and a few other bits.
- The point of Universal Credit is to make us all more responsible for ourselves and less dependent on the state and other agencies.
- Paying individuals monthly rather than directly to landlords etc means that people learn how to budget and manage their own money. This gets them ready for life as a full-time earner and provides more independence.
- Getting people to apply for and manage their benefits and tax credits online cuts down the cost to the government – and therefore to tax payers – of managing it all. This should help bring government debt down over time.
- The new system is more responsive to income changes. It’s integrated with the Pay-As-You-Earn tax system so it benefits those who see a drop in earnings and helps those getting back into work.
- It’s a more supportive system for the self-employed, with monthly earnings reported – Universal Credit is paid in any month where expenses are higher than income, or you’ve only earned a low amount that month.
- Many people receiving Universal Credit don’t have experience managing money day-to-day, let alone over a month. There’s the potential issue of people blowing it all in the first week and having nothing for the rest of the month.
- Social landlords (housing associations particularly) have been worried that those previously on housing benefit won’t pay their rent as they won’t realise they need to do it themselves. They’re concerned about people getting kicked out of their homes because they won’t pay rent for months on end.
- Not everyone has access to the internet – but there’s help for those who don’t.
- Universal Credit sparked certain controversies as it can make the first few weeks very difficult. Due to the initial wait of five weeks for the first payment, some people say they’ve been forced into debt.
If you think you should be receiving Universal Credit, make sure you have a bank or building society account which allows you to make direct debits and standing orders. Check our advice on choosing the best bank accounts for you. You might also want to consider opening an account with a Credit Union – our article is full of advice on the benefits of joining one, and where your nearest one is.
If you live with your partner, you’ll have to make a joint claim even if your partner is in work. Your claim is assessed on household income even if you’re not married – so if your partner earns over a certain amount, or has over £16,000 in savings, you won’t be eligible. If you’re both eligible for the benefit, you can get one joint payment sent into your joint account. This will enable you to budget more effectively.
Next, start budgeting. Have your direct debits in place so you don’t need to worry about things like rent when it comes to paying it. Having an account that allows you to set up direct debits and standing orders will help. If you need more assistance, our budget planner can help get your finances in order.
Finally, go online. Although you can use the service even without internet access, you might want to find out where in your area you can use the internet for free.
Pension Credit now consists of two elements:
- Guarantee Credit
- Savings Credit
The first one tops your weekly income if it’s below £167.25 for a single person. Savings Credit is an additional payment for those who have savings towards their retirement.
Not sure if you’re eligible? Check here.
You can also ask us! Type your question in the comments box below and we’ll answer it as quickly as possible.