If you haven’t already, you should check you’re eligiblefor Universal Credit.
To receive this benefit you will be expected to be looking for work. You will have regular appointments where your Work Coach will ask how your job search is going. You will be expected to fill in an online ‘journal’ of your progress and to meet with your Work Coach regularly. The amount of time you are expected to spend looking for work and the amount you will meet with your Work Coach will be included in what is called your ‘claimant commitment’. This will be decided between you and your Work Coach in your first meetings and recorded on your online Universal Credit portal.
In the past, separate payments were made for living costs and housing, but now Universal Credit pays these things together. Universal Credit (mostly) replaced: Income-Based Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA); Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); Income Support; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit; and Housing Benefit.
If you and your partner live together ‘as though you are married’ (i.e. you share living costs), or if you are in a civil partnership or marriage, then you have to apply as a couple.
You usually apply for Universal Credit online. First, set up an online account here.
You will use this to apply for and manage your Universal Credit. You can apply by phone if you do not have access to the internet or cannot use the internet at all, by calling 08003285644.
For online applications:
When signed in to your online application, you will need to complete 4 steps before you can get Universal Credit:
1. answer questions about your situation on your ‘to-do list’
2. confirm your identity - online or in person
3. book an appointment at your Jobcentre
4. attend your appointment
For your to-do list, you will be asked about your rent/housing situation, your income, savings, childcare provider (if applicable), and bank account. You can use a friend’s bank account to receive your first payment, but after that you will need your own bank account.
The Universal Credit team might phone you after you’ve sent your application if they need more information, or to verify your identity.
When you have applied online, you will need to book an interview at your local Jobcentre. You will need to book this within a week, or else you might have to start your application for Universal Credit again.
To book your interview, check the ‘to-do list’ section of your Universal Credit account. There will be an item called ‘prepare for your appointment’, where you can choose which documents to bring to the Jobcentre interview. If you don’t have anything on the list, select ‘I do not have any of these’ - this will mean you’ll be asked more questions at your interview.
The phone number you need to book your interview will appear after you’ve chosen which evidence you’ll take with you.
Coronavirus – If you can’t go to a Jobcentre you’ll be able to complete your claim online.
The Universal Credit Interview
You’ll be asked for at least one piece of photo ID. This includes either a passport or biometric residence permit (this will change in July 2021). You will also be asked for any statements or bills which you said you'd take with you, as well as anything else that helps prove your identity.
You won't get your first Universal Credit payment until you've provided all the documents, but don’t worry if you don’t have all the documents you need - you will need to answer more questions at the Jobcentre.
If you can’t, or you forget to take some documents, you will need to take them to your Jobcentre within 1 month of the interview. You could also post the extra/forgotten documents to the Jobcentre - ask for the address at your interview.
If you live with your partner they'll have their own interview. They'll also need to take documents proving their details - for example, even if you've already taken your rent agreement, they will need to take it, too.
If you rent privately, you will be asked for the amount of rent you pay and your landlord’s address - you will be asked for your tenancy agreement or a recent rent statement. If you don't have a tenancy agreement, ask your landlord for a copy, or for a letter confirming your rent.
If you rent from your local council or housing association, you don’t need to take evidence of your housing costs to your interview. The DWP will get in touch with your landlord for evidence.
If you own your home, you’ll need to provide evidence of this. This could be a mortgage agreement or bank statements showing the payment of a mortgage.
You won’t get universal credit for mortgage payments, but you might be able to get a loan to help with interest payments on your mortgage.
This includes payslips from any work, details of work you are going to start soon, other benefits you get, a bank statement for any savings you have, and so on. If unsure, check your ‘to-do’ list.
If you have children
You be asked for birth certificates for your children - if you've lost a certificate, you can order a new birth certificate on GOV.UK, but you'll have to pay a fee for this.
You will also be asked for: evidence of any childcare costs - an invoice or a receipt from a nursery or registered childminder - and your Child Benefit reference number, if you have one. You can find your reference number on any letters you have about Child Benefit. The reference number starts with 'CHB' and is made up of 8 numbers and 2 letters - like: 'CHB12345678 AB'. Call the Child Benefit Office on 0300 200 3100 if you don’t know the reference number.
It will usually take 5 weeks to get your first Universal Credit payment, but you can ask to have some money paid sooner.
Getting an advance payment
You should ask for an advance payment if you don’t think you’ll have enough money to live on between applying and your first payment. Advanced payments are a loan, and you will have to pay it back over a period of time that is agreed with the government. You will not pay any interest on this loan.
You can ask for an advance payment by asking your work coach at your first Universal Credit interview, applying through your online account, or calling the Universal Credit helpline. However, you can’t ask for an advance online or by calling the helpline unless you’ve had your first Universal Credit interview.
When you have started to get Universal Credit, the government will automatically take repayments from your Universal Credit until you’ve paid the loan back. They’ll tell you how much the repayments will be and how long it will take for you to pay it back.
You can spend up to 12 months paying an advance back. The DWP shouldn’t ask you to pay it back sooner than this if you can’t afford it - tell your work coach if the repayments will cause you hardship. You can ask to pay it back quicker if you want to.
You can ask the DWP to look at the decision again if they won’t give you an advance payment. It will help if you can give new evidence or show that your circumstances have changed since your first request.
Universal Credit payments:
You’ll usually get a single Universal Credit payment every month. This will be paid directly into your bank, building society or credit union account. If you make a joint claim as a couple, you’ll get one payment between the 2 of you.
Tell the Jobcentre if you want the payments to go to one of you or be split between you (the Jobcentre doesn’t have to agree).
Some of your Universal Credit will be for your housing costs - called a 'housing element.' You’ll usually be expected to pay this directly to your landlord yourself.
If your application for Universal Credit is refused
If you disagree with the decision about your Universal Credit claim, you can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to change it. You’ll need to ask for ‘mandatory reconsideration’ - this means the DWP will look at the decision again.
You need to contact the DWP within 1 month of the date of the decision.
There are 4 ways you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration. You can: write a message in your Universal Credit online account, if you have one; fill in a CRMR1 mandatory reconsideration form - which you can find on www.gov.uk - and send it to the address on the top of your decision letter; write a letter to the DWP - send it to the address on the decision letter; call the number on the decision letter if you’re near the deadline - you should write to the DWP after you call explaining your case.
When you ask for the mandatory reconsideration you should include the date of the decision, reasons why you disagree, your name, address and National Insurance number.
You might need to show when you sent your letter, so ask the Post Office for free proof of postage.
You’ll need to give a good reason for why you couldn’t ask within the 1 month deadline - for example because you were seriously ill, or you split up from your partner.
You need to explain to the DWP: why you missed the deadline; why the decision is wrong; why it’s important they change the decision. The DWP can refuse your request for a mandatory reconsideration if it's late.
You can take your challenge to an independent tribunal if you still disagree with the DWP or if they won’t let you make a late mandatory reconsideration request.
The tribunal will look at your arguments and make a decision. They’re overseen by a judge and separate from the DWP. Get independent help from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) if you can, by calling 0800 144 844.
You can claim Universal Credit if you have a long-term health condition or disability which prevents you from working.
Health conditions and disabilities can include things like mental health problems (anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other conditions), being autistic, having a learning disability, and so on, as well as physical conditions. Anything which prevents you from working, medium- or long-term.
This is not for short-term conditions, such as the flu, or a broken leg: for these you would instead get a sick note from the doctor, to excuse you from seeking work.
You can apply for Universal Credit here: https://www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit
If you are making a new claim for universal credit and are unable to work, then you should apply for universal credit online. When you are contacted by your ‘Work Coach’, tell them that you are unable to work due to a health condition/disability. If you tell your Work Coach this in person or on the phone, it might help if you take somebody along to your meeting, to help you feel confident (or have the phone on loudspeaker and a trusted friend or worker with you).
If you are already on universal credit and become unable to work, you should tell your work coach that you are unable to work by using your online ‘journal’.
In both cases, you should then receive a form in the post asking you about your health conditions. This form is called the UC50 form.
On this form you will be asked about how you cope with activities such as walking, communicating, reading, etc. Sometimes this form can feel confusing, or you might not understand why you are being asked certain questions.
There is a guide to filling in UC50 work capability forms here: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/completing-capability-work-questionnaire
When you answer the questions, it is important to think about whether you can do the activity safely, to an ‘acceptable’ standard, as often as you need to, and in a reasonable time.
For example, you might not think of depression as something which affects walking, but if your depression is so severe that you are sometimes unable to move, or you move very slowly, then your ability to walk ‘varies’ i.e. you are not able to do it as often as you need to and in a reasonable time. It might be a good idea to have somebody else who knows your health condition to help you fill in the forms - it can be hard to know what kinds of things the DWP want to know about, and having somebody else who has a good knowledge of your condition can help.
If you need help with filling in your form, you can get it from either a support worker who is already in your life, and who knows about these forms, or else from charities such as Mind (the mental health charity) or the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
For each question, you will receive a certain number of ‘points’ based on how difficult you find the task. A list of the points available for each activity are here: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/wca-limited-capability-work-assessment-descriptors
You will have to send the form back within 4 weeks, but if you need more time due to issues with your health or disability, then you can ask for an extension. You should ask for an extension either on your online Universal Credit ‘journal’ or by ringing up (or somebody else ringing up for you) the Universal Credit helpline:
0800 328 5644.
Get a photocopy or take pictures of the form before you send it off, so you have a record of the answers you gave.
After you have sent off your form, you will usually get a letter inviting you to a health assessment. Due to Covid, this will currently happen on the telephone. In more ordinary times, this will happen face-to-face at a benefits health assessment centre.
It is important to remember that the people who do the health assessments work for the benefits service – they are assessing you from the moment they meet you (whether on the phone or in person) and every question is a part of the assessment. For example, they will ask questions which seem like small-talk questions such as “how was your journey here today?”, but these are part of the assessment. Do not be tempted to give a small-talk, “polite” answer, such as “fine, thank you”, if you actually found the journey very difficult.
They will usually ask you to describe how your health condition or disability affects you, in your own words. They are looking to give ‘points’ for each of the questions you were asked on the UC50 form, so it is good to remind yourself of these questions before the meeting, so that you do not leave anything out.
The process can feel invasive and stressful for some people. If you feel able to, it is important to take somebody with you to support you. The supporter can be a support worker, a mental health nurse, a good friend, or a partner.
The supporter is allowed to help you to answer questions and they are allowed to ask the assessor questions, too. One good question to ask, if you are unsure that you are being understood correctly is “I am unsure if I explained that right, can you tell me what you have written down?”. This helps to keep the process clear for everybody.
If the meeting is on the phone, then the assessor can bring your supporter onto the call, by ringing them and creating a conference call. You must ask for this as soon as you answer the phone to the assessor.
You can also ask (in advance) for the meeting to be recorded. This can help you if you need to appeal the decision later on.
After the assessment, the assessor will write a report and send it to the benefits department with their opinion of whether or not you are eligible for Universal Credit at the Limited Capacity for Work (and Work Related Activity) rate. You will receive a letter within a few weeks informing you of their decision. If they have rejected your claim, you can appeal the decision, and must do so within a month.
If you are found to be unable to work, you will be placed into one of two ‘groups’. Either you will be assessed as having ‘Limited Capability for Work’ or else ‘Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activities’.
The first group ( ‘Limited Capability for Work’) get the standard allowance for Universal Credit (the same rate as if you were job seeking), but will not be expected to look for work. You will be expected to prepare for work at some point in the future, though, and this will be your ‘claimant commitment’. You might still have to meet with a ‘work coach’ to talk about how you are preparing for work.
The second group (‘Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activities’) get an extra £328.32 per month on top of the standard allowance, and do not have to look for work or prepare to get into work.
If you think you have been put into the wrong group, you can appeal this.
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