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.
The Labour Party, organisations including the Trussell Trust (which has seen a huge increase in need for foodbanks in UC areas), and recently the Archbishop of Canterbury are calling for the UC “rollout” to be halted, due to the destitution it is causing, and there is increasing media coverage. Here is UC claimant Maria Amos talking to Victoria Derbyshire (BBC2). See also: Universal credit could be sunk by next stage of rollout, say experts
We want to get more info on what vulnerable claimants can raise at the initial Jobcentre interview to get adjustments to the “claimant commitment” they sign, the Work Capability Assessment, exemption from work conditions for benefit (equivalent to ESA Support Group), exemptions from the total benefit cap, alternative payments for couples and people concerned about rent payment, provision for victims of domestic violence. (Read our evidence to MPs against the single payment to head of household which is worsening domestic abuse. The MPs’ report is here.)
Here are some basics and links to leaflets by our friends in UC pilot areas. Plus some other resources and information links below.
What is Universal Credit and which benefits will 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?
The government started UC as a pilot (trial) in places such as Newcastle, Tameside and some London boroughs, and is bringing it in more widely, but not for everybody, and not at the same time.
Timetable — ‘Rollout’
You can use this link to start your claim or to check whether Universal Credit applies where you live: https://www.universal-credit.service.gov.uk/postcode-checker
Existing claimants on ESA and other benefits
Many ESA claimants are worried about Universal Credit coming in, in their area. If you are already on the existing benefits, for example ESA, you will NOT be made to change over to Universal Credit at the same time as it is set to come in for new claimants in your area.
The government has announced that existing claimants would start to be moved over at some time between mid-2019 to 2023. This means there is some time before any change would start, and this is likely to be postponed, as many other dates have been. The rules for how claimants will be treated, have not been finalised by the government yet. Mind and others have said that claimants with mental distress should only be moved over smoothly, and that people should not have to start a fresh claim.
The Social Security Advisory Committee is looking at the rules for existing claimants and will make recommendations for how they should be treated. Along with many other organisations and concerned people, WinVisible has made a submission. Read it here.
Existing claimants are supposed not to lose out financially and to get what is called “transitional protection”.
People claiming for the first time — getting started
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.
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, DPAC advises 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.
Getting paid immediately without waiting 5 weeks or longer
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/
Vulnerable claimants and the initial interview
It is the claimant’s responsibility to book their interview at the Jobcentre. You will need to phone to book your “Health and Work Conversation” (initial interview) within 7 days of your claim. So far we don’t know of any way to avoid this. We are seeking advice regarding vulnerable claimants, so please do contact us if you know.
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.
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.
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.