Universal Credit – What will change? How can you get ready?

In response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said ‘ The change to tax credit cuts is a welcome relief, but more changes to Universal Credit are yet to come. It is important people can access help and support so they can plan their finances in order to adapt.’

Many people are familiar with tax credits, but they and other benefits are to be incorporated into the new single Universal Credit, which has been trialled and introduced in other parts of the country, but has not yet been introduced in this part of Surrey.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit supports people who are on low incomes or out of work. It tries to ensure that they are better off in work than on benefits.

Universal Credit aims to make the welfare system simpler by replacing six benefits and credits (Income Support, Income-based Job Seekers Allowance, Income-related Employment Support Allowance, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit) with a single monthly payment. The Government claims that changing the system will help reduce poverty by increasing the rewards that are on offer as people move into work. Universal Credit is also intended to make it easier for people to take short-term or part-time work, which can be a crucial step on the road to long-term employment.

How and when is Universal Credit Being Introduced?

Universal Credit is already available to single people, couples and families in some parts of the country. In February 2016 it is scheduled to be introduced here in Surrey for new single claimants who meet the eligibility criteria. Gradually it will also be rolled out for couples and families.

What will change and what can you do to get ready for Universal Credit?

  1. Go on-line 

Universal Credit is designed to be claimed on line. If you do not have access to the internet, JobCentres may have computers you can use, or you can use computers which are available in your local library. Ask if you need help using the computer. There may be one to one help or beginners courses available. Going on-line and building your confidence using computers will also help you access more job vacancies, which may help you get into work more quickly.

2.  Make sure you have a suitable bank, building society or credit union account

In the majority of cases you will need one of these for your monthly payment.

3.  Sort out the best way to manage your money

Universal Credit is paid monthly into an account for you. Your Universal Credit payment provides a month’s support for you. If this includes rent, you will be responsible for paying your landlord. If you have been used to managing your money fortnightly or having your rent paid directly to your landlord, you may need to think about new ways to manage your money. This could include:

  • talking to your landlord to agree the best way to pay your rent or
  • getting advice on budgeting

4.  Delays between claim and first payment

There is likely to be a delay between when you claim Universal Credit and receipt of your first payment. If you are worried about this, seek advice as soon as possible.

5.  What will you have to do in return for your Universal Credit payment?

When you claim Universal Credit you will accept a claimant commitment which sets out your responsibilities. Your claimant commitment will depend on your personal circumstances, such as your health or how much help you need to get work or increase your hours.

How much will you get?

This will depend on your personal circumstances at the time and will vary if these change.

Although the tax credit cuts have been cancelled, changes to Universal Credit which were announced in the summer have not. However, for those who are transferred onto Universal Credit in the months to come, there will be transitional arrangements.

For more information about eligibility, a video about Universal Credit and a Universal Credit Calculator, go to www.gov.uk/universalcredit

For a useful checklist of information you need to have to hand when applying, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/apply

The Universal Credit helpline is 0345 600 0723 (open 8am-6pm Mon to Fri). If you have a good reason why you cannot apply on line, ring and ask if you can apply over the phone. This is not a free line, so ask them to ring you back as the application could take around 40 minutes.

Information about help with learning to use a computer is available at your local library. Information about setting up a bank account and budgeting courses is available from your local Citizens Advice Offices or Adviceline 0344 848 7969. Citizens Advice Offices in Waverley also offer one-to-one Cash Confidence sessions.

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