Universal Credit self-help info

UC logo

This page covers:

  • The overall situation with Universal Credit (UC)
  • What is UC?
  • When will I be affected?
  • ESA claimants
  • ‘Transitional Protection’
  • Before starting your UC claim
  • Ways to start your UC claim
  • Getting paid immediately
  • Vulnerable claimants and first interview
  • Self-help information from grassroots groups

The overall situation with Universal Credit (UC)

Alongside many grassroots groups and anti-poverty organisations, WinVisible is part of the UK-wide “Stop and Scrap Universal Credit” campaign.  For more info, search Universal Credit on our blog and contact us.

Here are some basics and links to leaflets by our friends in areas where Universal Credit was piloted before the full roll-out. Plus some other resources.

What is Universal Credit and which benefits does it replace?

“Universal Credit” (UC) aims to impose one system on people of working age who need benefit for themselves and their children to live on, to pay their rent or to top up low wages.  UC merges several income-based benefits and tax credits into one: Jobseeker’s Allowance — Employment and Support Allowance — Income Support  — Child tax credit — Working tax credit — Housing Benefit.  Some of the elements of Universal Credit are less money than the previous Income Support premiums or other amounts.

Benefits which are not based on low income/means-tested, such as Child Benefit, National Insurance Contributions-based ESA or JSA, Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or PIP, are not part of UC.  However you may need to claim UC to cover your rent or support your children, in which case your other income is taken into account.

When will I be affected? 

New claimants who before would apply for ESA, JSA, now apply for Universal Credit. If you are already on a previous benefit such as Working Tax Credit and then claim Child Tax Credits, that is not a change of circumstances as you are already on Tax Credits, so you don’t have to claim Universal Credit.  It’s best to get advice from a welfare rights service before changing your claim.

ESA claimants

Many ESA claimants are worried about being forced onto Universal Credit.  If you are already on the existing benefits, for example ESA, you will NOT be made to change over to Universal Credit immediately.

The government announced that existing claimants would start to be moved over at some time before 2023.  There is some time before any change would start.  If and when it happens also depends on people and organisations protesting against the government’s policy and complaining that they make people start a fresh claim instead of carrying them over.

‘Transitional Protection’

The government said that ESA claimants would not lose out from being made to claim Universal Credit by the DWP. But this is not true. So far, amounts announced by the government under ‘transitional protection’ are less than the severe disability premiums which people get on ESA if they get PIP or DLA.  Legal challenges were made.

Before starting your UC claim 

If you were on a previous benefit and have had a break in your claim because something went wrong, get welfare rights advice first before you start a UC claim.  You may be eligible to continue your previous claim.  Some of the legal challenges are about people who lost out from being wrongly told to make a new claim for UC.

If you are starting a new UC claim, you will need a bank account, building society account or credit union account.  Post Office accounts are accepted but the DWP wants them to be phased out.

For sick and disabled claimants, it’s recommended that you should first get a sick note from your GP (“fit note” or statement of fitness for work) before starting your claim.  Tick yes to this question, on your application form.  There are also a few days’ leeway to provide this proof, set out in DWP guidance to Work Coaches dealing with sick and disabled claimants.

Ways to start your claim

Online here

Via the Visiting Service (check about COVID changes to this service)

Via the CAB Help to Claim service (your claim will have a later date as it may be registered after you contact them)

The RNIB says: “The online system should meet guidelines for accessibility, so should work with magnification and screen reading technology on computers and other devices.  If you are unable to complete an online application, you can contact the Universal Credit Helpline to request support 0800 328 5644 or 0800 328 1344 (textphone).  A DWP adviser may be able to complete the online form for you as you talk through the application over the phone or you can arrange to visit a local DWP office and an adviser can complete the form for you face to face. You may also ask for a home visiting service where DWP staff or a local support service are able to visit you at home to complete the form.”

Getting paid immediately 

Gail Ward (DPAC NE) says: You can apply for a 100% short term advance at beginning of your claim, please bear in mind the repayments are 40% of your income, so could lead to ever-spiralling debt which you may not be able to break free from, so beware! A Budgeting loan may prove to be wiser choice and lower repayments. You will still be able to apply for budgeting loan online from DWP.

More info on circumstances for immediate payment:  https://dpac.uk.net/author/gail-ward/

See also: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/apply/get-advance-payment/

Vulnerable claimants and the first interview

Due to COVID and the number of people claiming Universal Credit during the pandemic, they have changed what you need to do.  The interview which people used to do in person at the Jobcentre has been changed to telephone interview.  They say that you will be contacted, you don’t need to phone in to book it.  Instead you will get a message on your UC journal and a text message about it.  See info here:

Your jobcentre appointment

There are four levels of work-related requirements in Universal Credit:

  • No work-related requirements
  • Work-focussed interviews only
  • Preparation for work (equivalent to the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA)
  • All work-related activity/available for work

Several groups of claimants are exempted from work-related requirements, including pregnant women, mothers of babies, full-time carers, severely disabled and sick people.  See here for more info.

At the initial interview, you can ask to have no work-related requirements, or the minimum of work-focussed interviews only, because of your disability or ill-health.  You can ask straight away to fill in a UC50 form, which is about not being capable of waged work.

You should take your GP sick note and any other medical evidence with you and try to attend with someone who can support you at the interview.  See more about this on this CAB page: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/claiming/getting-universal-credit-if-youre-sick-or-disabled/

If there are other issues about your interview at the Jobcentre, you could write to the Jobcentre manager about your situation, and enlist support from your MP, but you will need to watch that you don’t let the interview date go by and then get cut off.

Central England Law Centre has produced this guidance for claimants with disability or ill-health, mums and other carers for children, disability carers, claimants who have needs with reading and writing, or English as a second or other language:


Mencap learning disability charity has information on how the Jobcentre should make reasonable adjustments to make such interviews accessible.  However more is needed to support vulnerable claimants from being pressured into agreements they don’t understand or can’t meet.  Requests or complaints can be made to the Jobcentre manager, and ask your MP to support your case.

As far as we understand, a lot of the principles of ESA are carried over into Universal Credit. Including, there is a category of no work-related requirements, equivalent to the Support Group, which also gives you exemption from the total benefit cap (see the Citizen’s Advice Bureau page and click on ‘if you are sick or disabled’).


Self-help guides by grassroots groups and other useful links:

Survival Guide by Tameside Against the Cuts

Universal Credit — What you need to know to stay safe by Disabled People Against Cuts (North East and Cumbria)




Disability Rights UK factsheet.

** Many thanks to Gail Ward (DPAC North East and Cumbria), and Charlotte Hughes (The Poor Side of Life).

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