Universal Credit – are you ready to make the switch? 

It has been more than 10 years since Universal Credit was first proposed, when, at the Conservative Party Conference in 2010, the then Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, called it a “once in many generations” reform. 

The idea behind this significant new benefit was the simplification of the system for the vast majority of claimants, as Universal Credit was conceived to replace six of the most widely accessed benefits – income related Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. Designed not only to be simpler, it was also aimed at encouraging entry into work because, unlike some legacy benefits, Universal Credit wouldn’t stop if the claimant found a part-time job.  Instead, there would be a taper system as people moved further into work. 

The new benefit was legislated in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and three routes into Universal Credit developed.  Anyone newly unemployed was required to apply for Universal Credit – Income Related Jobseekers Allowance and Income Related Employment Support Allowance for example were no longer available; existing claimants were allowed to make the switch themselves if they thought they might be better off on Universal Credit; and finally, ‘managed migration’ was piloted in a number of areas across the country.  In addition to this, any change in circumstances for an existing legacy benefit claimant would also trigger a move to Universal Credit. 

It was intended that the ‘universal’ roll-out of Universal Credit should be complete by 2020, and the programme was only suspended because the pandemic saw an overwhelming number of new claims which the Department for Work and Pensions had to process. 

So that’s the history … What does it mean for me?

Well, the roll-out is back on track, and if you are still on legacy benefits, then you will be getting a letter to invite you to apply for Universal Credit. Your existing benefit will stop.  Starting with tax credits and then moving through the other legacy benefits during the next 12 months, the Department for Work and Pensions hopes to have informed everybody who needs to switch by September 2024, and to have managed the full migration to Universal Credit by April 2025.  (If you are claiming ESA only, or ESA and a legacy benefit other than tax credits, you will receive a managed migration notice during 2028 with a view to completing the process by 2029.)  

Sandra’s story

Here’s the experience of one of our clients:

“I went into panic mode, to be honest.” says Sandra*, who has already received her letter, “The letter said Universal Credit would be replacing my tax credits and that I had to apply by a certain date.  I didn’t understand what had happened or what I had to do. I needed help!”

Sandra took her letter into her local Citizens Advice, where an Adviser explained what was happening and helped her apply online for the new benefit.  The Adviser explained the process, how much she would receive and how it would work, and also that, as her new Universal Credit payment would be slightly less than her old benefit, she would be entitled to a transitional payment to make up the difference. 

“I feel so much better,’ she says, ‘it really helps having somebody with who I can to talk it through.”

* Name changed for reasons of confidentiality

So, look out for your migration letter, and if you’re not sure what to do, pop into your local Citizens Advice, call our Adviceline or call our dedicated Help to Claim line (contacts below).  We can help. Please don’t ignore it though – the transition to Universal Credit won’t be automatic.  Your legacy benefit will stop and you do need to apply.  

Citizens Advice South West Surrey contact details:

Call Adviceline (free) to speak to an Adviser:

Waverley 0808 278 7980

Guildford and Ash 0808 278 7888

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South West Surrey Domestic Abuse Service contact details:

Tel: 01483 898884 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm)

Email: swr@swsda.org.uk


Citizens Advice Mole Valley contact details:

Both Dorking and Leatherhead Citizens Advice offices are currently open for appointments, please either telephone our adviceline 0800 144 8848 or email leatherhead@camv.org.uk / dorking@camv.org.uk

Contact East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services on 01737 771350 or email: support@esdas.org.uk

Surrey Domestic Abuse 9am-9pm Helpline – 01483 776822

In an emergency always dial 999

Citizens Advice Reigate and Banstead contact details:

Phone Adviceline: 0808 278 7945 (free) to speak to an adviser (Monday – Friday 9.00 – 16.00)

Email: Use an enquiry form

Self help (website)

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