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Universal Credit

Universal Credit (UC) replaces Job Seekers Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit for working age people.

For new claims or a change in circumstances, you will now have to claim Universal Credit unless:

You need to claim Universal Credit towards your living costs, but continue to claim Housing Benefit to help pay your rent if you live in the following types of accommodation:

  • some supported or sheltered housing that provides you with 'care, support or supervision'
  • temporary accommodation, such as a B&B arranged by the council
  • refuges for survivors of domestic abuse

Check your eligibility for Universal Credit using the online calculator.

About universal credit

Universal Credit changes

What to do next

Applying for Universal Credit

Help to claim

After claiming

Your first payment

Rent

If you have a health condition or disability

If you are self-employed

Reporting a change of circumstances

Sanctions

Challenging a sanction

Rent payments

Hardship payment

Disagreeing with a decision

Support

Debt advice

Plan your spending

Food parcels

Help with health costs

Budgeting advance

Alternative payment arrangements

Deductions

Non-dependents

Under-occupation reduction

Fuel and water direct (third party deductions)

Contact

Universal Credit changes

  • UC is paid to you monthly in arrears
  • Money to help pay your rent will be paid to you, you will need to pay the rent to your landlord
  • You need to have a bank account to be able to claim UC
  • You need to apply and manage your UC claim online, help is available if you need it from the organisations listed on the back of this factsheet

What to do

If you are already receiving Housing Benefit, you must tell us that you have made a claim for UC so that we can cancel your Housing Benefit.

You will be responsible for paying your rent to your landlord. You will need to have details on how to pay your landlord (your landlord's bank details and possibly your rent reference number). If you are unsure of these details, please contact your landlord.

Council tenants - Paying your rent

Free school meals need to be claimed separately.

If you do not have a bank account, are currently overdrawn or are paying charges on your bank account, open a new fee-free basic bank account. This is to prevent your UC payment being taken up with charges, leaving you without money for bills and essential household costs.

You can open a fee-free basic bank account even if you have poor credit, and they are designed to help people who are struggling financially. Debt advice information or contact the Debt Advice Team on 0118 937 2197.

Applying for Universal Credit

You can only apply for Universal Credit (UC) online. Set up an online account. You must submit your claim within 28 days of creating your account.

If you live with your partner, they will also need to set up an account as you need to claim as a couple (you will be given a code to link your accounts)

You will need to give details of your:

  • postcode
  • National Insurance number
  • email address
  • bank, building society or credit union account that you want your Universal Credit paid into (information on fee-free bank accounts)
  • tenancy/rent agreement (if you have one)
  • savings or other capital
  • any income that's not from work (for example, child maintenance)
  • any other benefits you get
  • any children, including their Child Benefit numbers
  • details for other people who live in your home, including grown up children

It will take about 20 minutes for a single person, and around an hour for a couple, to apply. Save your answers regularly, you can come back to your application later.

You need to make you application as soon as possible as there is no option to backdate your claim, the sooner you apply, the sooner you will receive your first payment. There is help available for you to apply for UC if you need it. Contact one of the agencies below if you need help.

You can watch a YouTube video on making a UC claim

You will need to use the Gov.uk Verify service - have proof of you ID to hand to speed up this process.

If you have recently ended your employment and you are expecting a final wage payment, consider applying for UC the day after you receive your final wage. If you apply before, your wages will be used to calculate your income reducing your first payment.

Help to claim

Citizens Advice Reading provide a Help to Claim service on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. They can help you:

  • Set up your Universal Credit account
  • Complete your claim to dos
  • Verify your identity
  • Make sure you're providing the right evidence to the Jobcentre
  • Understand what Universal Credit will mean for you

You can call Citizens Advice Reading on 0800 144 8 444 or visit them Monday 10am to 12.30pm and 1pm to 4pm, Tuesday 10am to 12.30pm and Wednesday 1pm to 4pm, their address is Citizens Advice Reading, Minster Street, Reading RG1 2JB.

After claiming

Once your have made your claim online, you will be invited into your local Job Centre to accept and sign your Claimant Commitment. This is an agreement to complete certain tasks to maintain your claim. The tasks you are asked to do will depend on your circumstances.

Your claim will be stopped, and you may be sanctioned if you fail to keep to the agreements made in your claimant commitment without a valid reason.

Use your online journal to give details of all your work-related activities and communicate with your work coach.

Your first payment

The first payment takes around five weeks to be paid and will be a single payment for the household. After the first payment, you'll be paid on the same date of every month or you will be paid on the working day before this date if it falls on a weekend.

if you need help with your living costs while you wait for your first payment, you can apply for an 'advance payment' using your online account or through your Job Centre Plus Work Coach. You can request up to the full estimated amount of your first UC payment, and will agree the deductions from your UC to repay the advance over up to 12 months.

You can also request food parcels through your Job Centre Plus Work Coach or the Debt Advice Team, if you are struggling to afford food. Remember to mention any special dietary requirements.

Rent

You should set up a Direct Debit or standing order to pay your rent direct to your landlord for a date straight after your Universal Credit goes into your bank.

If you have a health condition or disability

When you make a claim for UC you will be asked if you have either a health condition or a disability which prevents, or limits, your ability to work. If you answer 'yes' you may be asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to find out if your health conditions or disability affects your ability to work.

If you are already receiving UC and begin to be affected by either a health condition or a disability that prevents or limits your ability to work, you need to report this change of circumstances on your UC account. You may be asked to attend a WCA. 

There are three possible outcomes of the WCA:

  • You are found to be fit for work and will be expected to look for work
  • You are found to have a limited capability for work, where you are not currently fit for work, but you can prepare for work with the aim of working at some time in the future
  • You are found to have a limited capability for work and work-related activity, where you will not be asked to look for work, or to prepare for work

If you are found to have a limited capability for work for the first time, you will not receive any additional element of Universal Credit. If you have been found to have a limited capability for work and have been continuously receiving a benefit because of that condition since before 3 April 2017, you will receive the limited capability for work component of UC.

If you are found to have a limited capability for work and work-related activity, you will receive the additional limited capability for work and work-related activity component of Universal Credit.

There is a waiting period in most cases of three months which will begin when you provide evidence of having limited capability for work before any additional elements are added to your claim.

You may get extra money from Universal Credit if you're terminally ill. If you're making a new claim, you can declare this during your application. If you are already receiving UC and are diagnosed with a terminal illness you should report this as a change of circumstances. This can be done through your Universal Credit account. You can also get someone else to report the change for you.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed (including company directors and if you pay yourself through PAYE), you need to report self-employed earnings at the end of each monthly assessment period.

This includes:

  • the total amount your business received
  • how much your business spent on different types of expenses
  • how much tax and National Insurance you paid
  • the total you paid into a pension

If your claimant commitment states that you are expected to look for, and be available for work, you will need to show you are 'gainfully self-employed'. This means:

  • your main employment is self-employment
  • you have self-employed earnings
  • your work is organised, developed, regular and in expectation of profit

You will be asked to provide evidence about your business and earnings to your work coach, for example:

  • tax returns, accounts and any business plan
  • Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR), if you're registered for Self-Assessment
  • customer and supplier lists, receipts and invoices
  • marketing materials

If you are gainfully self-employed, you will not need to look for work and will be expected to concentrate on growing your business and earnings.

If you are not be gainfully self-employed, you'll need to look for other work. You will also need to continue to report any earnings from self-employment.

When you are 'gainfully self-employed' there is an assumed level of earnings, called a 'minimum income floor'. This is calculated by the number of hours you are expected to work multiplied by the minimum wage.

If you earn more than the 'minimum income floor' your UC amount is calculated on your actual earnings. If you earn less than the 'minimum income floor', your UC is calculated as if you did earn the minimum income floor, meaning you receive less support and you may need to look for additional work to increase your income.

The minimum income floor will not apply if:

  • you are not in the all-work-related requirements group
  • you have been self-employed for less than 12 months

The minimum income floor may not apply if:

  • you are temporarily sick and no longer in 'gainful self-employment'
  • you are staying at home because of coronavirus, or having trouble getting work because of coronavirus

You always need to report changes in your circumstances that can affect your gainfully 'self-employed' status, including:

  • closing your business;
  • starting a different kind of business;
  • taking a permanent job
  • no longer being able to work

Report a change of circumstances

You have a responsibility to report changes to your circumstances as soon as they happen through your Universal Credit account, you will then receive the correct amount each month. Your claim might be stopped or reduced if you do not report a change of circumstances straight away.

Some of the changes you need to report include, but are not limited to:

  • starting or ending employment
  • having a child
  • moving in with your partner
  • starting to care for a child or disabled person
  • rent increases
  • moving to a new address
  • changing your bank details
  • changes in a health condition or disability
  • changes to your earnings (only if you're self-employed)

Sanctions

If you do not meet the requirements There are different levels of sanctions and they're decided based on what you did and how often. You can challenge a sanction by submitting a mandatory reconsideration of the decision.

UC is made up of separate parts, any sanction will be taken from the Standard Allowance, rather than the Housing Costs Element.

You will still need to pay your rent and other bills to avoid losing your home and maintain important services.

Citizens Advice have a guide on how to avoid a sanction.

Challenging a sanction

If you want to challenge the level or duration of your sanction, you can find details of how to do so on the letter telling you about the sanction.

Citizens Advice have a guide on how to arguments for challenging a sanction

You will get a letter giving the decision about your challenge and how to take it further, if necessary.

Rent payments

You must make sure that your rent payments are paid despite the sanction, to avoid losing your home.

Hardship payments

If you are sanctioned, and cannot afford your rent, heating, food or hygiene needs because of this, you can apply for a 'hardship payment'. This will be repaid through your UC payments after the sanction has been lifted. Contact the Universal Credit helpline to apply for a hardship payment.

Contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 to apply for a hardship payment.

Disagreeing with a decision

If you disagree with a decision that has been made regarding your UC claim, you will have a month from the date of the decision to ask for it to be reviewed. This is called a 'mandatory reconsideration'. The best way of doing this is to update your online journal or call the number on the decision letter.

You should include the date of the decision and specific reasons why you disagree, you will also need to include your name, address and National Insurance number.

The original decision will be reconsidered, and you'll get a mandatory reconsideration notice telling you whether the decision has been changed or not.

If you are not satisfied with the mandatory reconsideration decision, you can appeal to a tribunal. You must do this within a month from the date of your mandatory reconsideration notice, details of how to appeal will be on the mandatory reconsideration notice.

Citizens Advice have a guide on how to challenging benefit decisions.

Support

Debt advice

If you are a Council tenant, or you rent a property in Reading and you are affected by the benefit cap or your landlord has taken action to evict you, contact the Debt Advice Team on 0118 937 2197 for advice, support or to book an appointment.

They will be able to help you to make sure your Universal Credit claim is correct and give you advice on managing your budget and discuss your debt options to prevent your situation getting worse.

Plan your spending

Getting used to the financial changes of UC like receiving a monthly payment and making rent payments yourself may take time. You will need to plan your spending to make sure you do not get into arrears with priority bills/debts and face recovery action that can have serious consequences to you and your family.

Making a personal budget is a great way to plan your spending, and there is support available to you if you need it. All the resources you need to plan your spending, including the budgeting handbook and financial statement are available online on our debt advice page.

Food parcels

You can be referred for food parcels supplied by Readifood by your work coach, the Debt Advice Team, your landlord or any of the support agencies.

Remember to state if you/your household has any special dietary requirements including allergies.

Help with health costs on UC

You will qualify for help if, on the date you claim help with health costs either of the below apply:

  • you receive Universal Credit and either had no earnings or had net earnings of £435 or less in your last Universal Credit assessment period, or
  • you receive Universal Credit, which includes an element for a child, or you (or your partner) had limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA), and you either had no earnings or net earnings of £935 or less in your last Universal Credit assessment period.

If you're part of a couple, the net earning threshold applies to your combined net earnings. You should present a copy of your Universal Credit award notice to prove your entitlement.

If you are entitled to help with health costs, you can get:

  • free NHS prescriptions
  • free NHS dental treatment
  • free wigs and fabric supports
  • free sight tests
  • help with travel costs for NHS treatment
  • help with the cost of glasses and contact lenses

Budgeting Advance

You might be able to get a Budgeting Advance to help with emergency household costs such as replacing a broken cooker, getting a job or staying in work or funeral costs. You can make an application using your UC account, calling the helpline or speaking to your work coach.

You repay the advance through your future UC payments, if you stop getting Universal Credit you will have to repay the money another way.

To be eligible all the following must apply:

  • you have been receiving UC, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance or State Pension Credit for 6 months or more, unless you need the money to help you start a new job or stay in work
  • you have earned less than £2,600 (£3,600 together for couples) in the past 6 months
  • you have paid off any previous Budgeting Advance loans

The smallest amount you can borrow is £100. You can get up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. Any savings you have and your ability to repay the advance will be considered when you apply.

There is more help that you could be entitled to receive and you can find out more information about these thing on Gov.uk

Alternative Payment Arrangements

If you are struggling with receiving monthly payments of Universal Credit or have had trouble budgeting, you may be able to have an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA). You can request to:

  • have your Housing Costs Element paid directly to your landlord, this could include an amount towards you rent arrears
  • receive your UC more often than every month, for example every two weeks
  • your UC payment can be split between you and your partner

You can request an APA through your UC account, calling the helpline or speaking to your work coach. You will need to explain why you are making the request, be honest with UC if you are struggling and give as much information as you can.

Deductions from Universal Credit

Deductions can be made for overpayments and some debts and you may have up to a total of 30% of your 'standard allowance'. Further deductions can be taken for services, such as water or energy usage or your Housing Costs Element paid directly to your landlord.

If you are struggling with debt or overpayment deductions being taken from your UC, you can contact the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) Debt Management Team on 0800 916 0647. They will be able to tell you what is being deducted and how much you owe. You can also ask for the deductions to be reduced and explain your situation.

If you are struggling with advance payment deductions, you can request up to a three-month payment break through your UC account or by calling the UC helpline. You can request up to three months over the duration of repaying the advance. Contact the Debt Advice Team if you are struggling.

Non-dependents

If you have a spare bedroom you could consider having a non-dependent adult move into your property to occupy this room. A non-dependent is usually an adult son, daughter, other relative or friend who lives with you on a non-commercial basis.

A 'housing costs contribution' is usually deducted from your Housing Costs Element of your UC payment for each non-dependent adult living in your property, the current deduction is £73.89 per month.

Housing costs contributions are not taken if:

  • you (or your partner) are certified blind or severely sight impaired
  • you (or your partner) receive Attendance Allowance, the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) at middle or higher rate, or Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP)
  • the other adult is under 21
  • the other adult is responsible for a child under 5
  • the other adult is receiving Attendance Allowance, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) daily living component, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) care component at middle or high rate, or Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP)
  • the other adult is receiving Carer's Allowance
  • the other adult is receiving Pension Credit

Under-occupation reduction

If you claim UC and rent your home from a social housing landlord such as the council or a housing association, and have a spare bedroom, you housing UC may be reduced.

The Debt Advice Team have a guide to help you with the under occupation reduction.

Fuel and Water Direct (third party deductions)

You can have deductions made from your UC to pay your ongoing charge for gas, electricity and water, at the same time as repaying any debt your owe at 5% of your standard allowance. Deductions will stop when you have repaid the debt.

You can apply for fuel and/or water direct by contacting your local Jobcentre Plus or utility provider. You will need to have details of who you owe and how much, your customer reference number (for bills) and your National Insurance number.

Contact

The easiest way to contact the Universal Credit service is through your online journal.

You can also call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 - Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm (except bank holidays) - or textphone on 0800 328 1344 - Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm (except bank holidays). These are freephone numbers.

Further support

Universal Credit Helpline

Telephone: 0800 328 5644 - Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

Reading's JobCentre Plus

Address: Adelphi House, Friar Street, Reading, RG1 1HD - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9am to 5pm and Wednesday 10am to 5pm.

Reading Borough Council's Debt Advice Team

Address: Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading, RG1 2LU - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Telephone: 0118 937 2197

Email: debt.advice@reading.gov.uk

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