The government has started to replace a number of existing benefits with a single benefit called Universal Credit - find out what Universal Credit replaces, when and where it is being introduced, plus how to claim it and what to do if you are unhappy with the result of your claim.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a new means-tested benefit for people of working age that the government hopes will make claiming benefits simpler. It attempts to make sure you will always be better off in work than on benefits.

Universal Credit replaces the following means-tested benefits:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit
  • budgeting loans and crisis loan alignment payments.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) administers all Universal Credit claims.

The programme for introducing Universal Credit

Universal Credit is being introduced in stages however the timetable for the roll-out has already changed a number of times. The below information is accurate as of April 2016.

New claimants

On 27 April 2016 Universal Credit became available to all new single jobseekers across Great Britain. This is the 'Live' service and it is now available at every Jobcentre Plus.

The Full Digital Service

If you have a disability or are part of a couple or have children, you will only be able to make a claim for Universal Credit in an area that has the full Digital Service available. To date the full service has been piloted in a small number of areas (parts of Sutton, Croydon and South East London).

The full Digital Service will be rolled-out across more Jobcentre areas before a national role out of the full service begins in May 2016. The government expects the national roll-out to the full Digital Service to be completed in mid June 2018.

Phase 1 of the roll-out schedule for Jobcentre sites that will transition to the full digital service which will take new claims from all claimant types will happen between May - July 2016:

  • May 2016 - Bath, Newcastle Cathedral Square, Rugby, Bridgwater, Lowestoft
  • June 2016 - Harrogate, Richmond, Inverness, Hammersmith, Ryedale
  • July 2016 - Runcorn, Widnes, Lancaster, Morecombe, Frome, Wells

Phase 2 will take place between October - December 2016:

  • October 2016 - Skipton, Northallerton, Kennington Park, Peckham, Taunton, Minehead
  • November 2016 - Workington, Whitehaven, Daventry, Market Harborough, Dingwall, Fort William, Invergordon, Portree, Wick, Melton Mowbray
  • December 2016 - Hartlepool, Hastings, Fulham, Shepherds Bush, Stratford-upon-Avon, Swindon

Note: When you make a claim for an affected means-tested benefit, the DWP will advise you if you should make a claim for Universal Credit instead.

You can check whether you can claim Universal Credit by entering your postcode into Lasa's Universal Credit Tool.

If you already receive one of the benefits the Government is replacing – transferring on to Universal Credit

After the full Digital Service is available across Great Britain by mid 2018 the government will then begin migrating all remaining existing benefit claimants to the full service. This part of the process is intended to be completed by 2021.

The DWP will contact you closer to that time with more details of what will happen and when. When you are due to transfer, you will have to make a claim for Universal Credit and this may involve an assessment. The Government has confirmed that the last claimants to be migrated will be those in the Employment and Support Allowance support group.

Note: If you are in an area where Universal Credit is operating and you are moving from out-of-work benefits (such as income-related ESA or income-based JSA) into work or you are reporting a change of circumstances, the DWP will tell you if you need to make a claim for Universal Credit instead.

How much is Universal Credit worth?

The DWP pays Universal Credit monthly and makes one payment for each household directly into a bank account. If your claim is successful, the DWP will pay you a standard allowance plus any additional elements that apply to you. You should receive your first payment around five weeks after your claim.

The standard allowances from April 2014 are:

  • single claimant aged under 25: £251.77 a month
  • single claimant aged 25 or over: £317.82 a month
  • joint claimants, both aged under 25: £395.20 a month
  • joint claimants, either aged 25 or over: £498.89 a month.

Additional elements depend on your household's circumstances. They include a:

  • child element and disabled child addition
  • childcare element
  • carer element
  • limited capability for work element.

We give more information on specific amounts available for each element in our Universal Credit factsheet:

The DWP has recognised that, in exceptional cases, a single monthly payment may not be suitable for some people. For these people, the DWP will make split payments. You might belong to this group if you are a vulnerable tenant who will have your housing element of Universal Credit paid direct to your landlord, for example. For all other claimants, the monthly payment will include your housing costs.

How to claim Universal Credit

The DWP is encouraging as many people as possible to make and manage their claim for Universal Credit online. They have confirmed that their online system will meet guidelines for accessibility and so should work with magnification and screen reading technology on computers and other devices.

If you cannot access the internet and make your claim online, or feel that you need more support to do this, there are other ways for you to make your claim:

  • a DWP adviser will be able to complete the online claim for you as you talk through the application over the phone
  • you can visit a local DWP office and an adviser can complete the form for you
  • the DWP are also working with other organisations (called “Local Service Support”) who will be able to provide support to you. This service has been developed by the DWP in collaboration with Local Authorities to provide localised support for people who need extra help to make or maintain a claim for Universal Credit. In exceptional circumstances, the support service may be able to visit you at home to complete the form.

Your Claimant Commitment

When you have made a claim for Universal Credit, you will be asked to agree a Claimant Commitment. Your Claimant Commitment means that you are agreeing to undertake certain actions to look for work. If you fail to carry out these actions, Jobcentre Plus may suspend your benefits. This is called being sanctioned. We have created a factsheet which contains useful tips to help you prepare for agreeing to your Claimant Commitment. This information will apply to you if you have been placed in the work-related requirement group (a jobseeker) or if you have been found to have limited capability for work and placed in the work preparation requirement group.

How to appeal a decision on your Universal Credit claim

If you dispute the decision made on your Universal Credit claim and would like the DWP to look at their decision again, you can ask for a reconsideration.

If, after the DWP have reconsidered their decision, you are still unhappy, you can then lodge an appeal with HM Courts & Tribunal Service.

Find out more about the process and timescales for benefits appeals.

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