Universal credit

Easy Read Guide to Universal Credit

This easy read guide explains what Universal Credit is and how you can apply for it. 


Coronavirus and claiming benefits

March 2020

Please check the Understanding Universal Credit website for the latest up-to-date information about coronavirus and claiming benefits.


Millions at risk of Universal Credit ‘lock out’ warns The Salvation Army

Report published 11 February 2020

New research by The Salvation Army has shown that millions of people risk being unable to access their benefits due to faults in the Universal Credit system. Women in despair at laptop

Researchers interviewed Salvation Army service users and found 85% of people surveyed struggled to complete their claim.

Of these, nearly two thirds (60%) cited not being able to use a computer or not understanding the complicated system as the main reasons they struggled to complete the process.

The Government’s own research shows that 20% of Universal Credit claims are dropped before they are completed. The Salvation Army is warning that there is now overwhelming evidence that unless the Government provides more support for people to apply, vulnerable people will struggle to access their benefits.

Rebecca Keating Director of Employment Services at The Salvation Army said:

“Rolling out Universal Credit in its current form will steamroll vulnerable people into poverty but the Government has time to turn this around by accepting our recommendations and making it easier to apply.

Millions of people need extra support accessing a computer or understanding how to fill in complicated online forms. It is these vulnerable people who also claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit for those who need extra help to get back into work.

Over two million people are currently claiming ESA and are due to be moved onto Universal Credit. Our research shows that many of them are going to struggle to access a system that is complicated, bureaucratic and digital by default.”

The Salvation Army is calling for the following improvements to be made to the system to ensure the most vulnerable don’t find themselves locked out of the system:

  • Better identification of vulnerable people and those with mental health issues so they have tailored support to move onto Universal Credit.  
  • Investment to ensure smaller caseloads for Jobcentre Work Coaches so they have more time to properly identify and support clients who need extra help.  
  • More partnership working between Jobcentres and organisations like The Salvation Army, which has expertise in helping vulnerable people into work, including digital and budgeting support.  
  • Claimant Commitments to be personalised so that specific needs around issues like homelessness and domestic abuse are taken into account and people get the right support to help them find a job and stay in it.


 Two child benefit limit scrapped

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd announced on Friday 11 January 2019 that the government will not extend the two-child limit on Universal Credit for children born before April 2017 - which was due to come into place in February 2019. The change means that all children born before that date will continue to be supported by Universal Credit. This move will benefit around 15,000 families.

Other important changes include pressing ahead with a pilot to support 10,000 people from ‘legacy benefits’ on to Universal Credit in a test and learn approach.

She also announced changes designed to make Universal Credit fairer, including pilot schems to provide more frequent payments for new claimants, a new online system for private landlords and a more flexible approach to childcare provisions.

Universal credit: Amber Rudd to listen to 'expert guidance'

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has agreed to listen "very carefully" to concerns over universal credit, conceding the system "can be better".

In her first Commons appearance on Monday 19 November in her new appointment, she faced calls from Labour and the SNP to halt the rollout of the single benefit.

She said she would "learn from errors" and "adjust" the system, which she admitted had problems, where needed.

Ms Rudd said she would take heed of what campaigners have said about universal credit, following a call by 80 charities and other organisations for it to be halted.

She said: "I am certainly going to be listening very carefully. Part of the benefit of the universal credit rollout is going to be making sure we get the expert guidance from the people who have been working in this field for many years and we will certainly be doing that."


Changes to Universal Credit announced in autumn budget

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced in the autumn budget 2018 that he has increased work allowances – the amount people can earn before their universal credit starts to be reduced – by £1,000 a year, at a cost of £1.7bn annually. 

He also announced that the move to universal credit for those on existing benefits – so-called ‘managed migration’ – would be made a bit easier too. People will be able to still receive some of their existing benefits for a couple of weeks after they claim universal credit (starting in July 2020), and if they have debts the maximum amount that can be reclaimed will be lowered which should reduce the risk of hardship.

The Treasury would be giving £1bn over five years to the Department for Work and Pensions to help ease the transition.

The rollout of Universal Credit is also being delayed once more, with a new target date of December 2023 for all claimants to be transferred to the flagship new benefit.


National Audit Office report concludes Universal Credit hasn't delivered value for money

Universal Credit has taken significantly longer to roll-out than intended, may cost more than the benefits system it replaces, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will never be able to measure whether it has achieved its stated goal of increasing employment.

A report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) concludes that Universal Credit has not delivered value for money and it is uncertain that it ever will.

Since the NAO last reported on Universal Credit in 2014, the DWP has made some progress in managing the programme but has itself admitted that it cannot measure whether Universal Credit will lead to its economic aim of getting an additional 200,000 people into work.

Universal Credit may also cost more to administer than the previous system of benefits it replaces, with current running costs at £699 per claim, against an ambition of £173 per claim by 2024-25.

The roll-out has been considerably slower than was initially intended. It was due to complete in October 2017, but after a number of problems, eight years later only around 10 per cent of the final expected caseload are currently claiming Universal Credit.

The NAO states the DWP has not shown sufficient sensitivity towards come claimants and that is does not know how many claimants are having problems with the programme of have suffered hardship.

In 2017, around one quarter (113,000) of new claims were not paid in full on time. Late payments were delayed on average by four weeks, but from January to October 2017, 40 per cent of those affected by late payments waited in total around 11 weeks or more, and 20 per cent waited almost five months. Despite improvements in payment timeliness, in March 2018 21 per cent of new claimants did not receive their full entitlement on time with 13 per cent receiving no payment on time.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The Department has kept pushing the Universal Credit rollout forward through a series of problems. We recognise both its determination and commitment, and that there is really no practical choice but to keep on keeping on with the rollout.

“We don’t think DWP has shown the same commitment to listening and responding to the hardship faced by claimants. We think the larger claims for Universal Credit, such as boosted employment, are unlikely to be demonstrable at any point in future. Nor for that matter will value for money.”

You can read the report in full here


Universal Credit Update – October 2017

This is the first of many reports we will be putting up on our website to let our members, service users and carers understand what is happening in Reading about the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) and how it will affect them.

This report is therefore the story as we understand it so far as it affects people with a learning disability and their carers. There are also some useful resources at the end, which, whilst they are for children and young people, are also helpful. There is no doubt UC will cause people with a learning disability some problems. We can expect letters to start arriving for them from February 2018 onwards.

In trying to unravel the story we have worked with Andrew Donachie, the RBC Senior Welfare Reform Officer, sitting within RBC Housing — his specialities are the benefit cap and Universal Credit, and also with Jamie Webb, head of the team of five from the Debt Management Team in RBC who are situated at the Job Centre Plus to staff their "bank of computers" and to help people who cannot otherwise access the IT to manage Universal Credit; they also provide budgeting advice.

The Reading Mencap lead in this work is Kate Stonehouse, Family Support Team Leader, and Kate will be the main contact for all service users who need help when the benefit starts to roll-out.

1. When?

• Reading Borough becomes a “full service area” in December 2017
• There are 2 tranches for claimants – one in December 2017, (this is for new benefits claimants) and one in January 2018, when current claimants start to switch over in the following three months to Feb – April 2018.

2. Which benefits does UC replace?

• Jobseeker's Allowance (income-based)
• Employment and Support Allowance (income-related)
• Income Support.
• Child Tax Credits
• Working Tax Credits
• Housing Benefit (rental)

It should be noted that neither Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) are affected by Universal Credit.

3. Possible positive aspects of UC

• Payments can be made to third parties – e.g. landlords
• Simpler rates for limited capability (ESA), usually two elements only. This should mean fewer mistakes by benefits staff.
• Each claimant has an online account, and they can see at all times what and when they will be paid, and ALL information held about their claim.
• Job Centre has employed disability advisors and mental health workers to support people to manage their claims.
• Payments are monthly. BUT payments can be made more frequently where there is a need.
• Huge cultural change for Job Centre staff. They are all now job coaches.
• There is a team of five people to support people with their claims, and to support use of the bank of computers installed for the purpose at the Job Centre. This is called “Assisted Digital Support”.
• Claims can be managed by an appointee.
• Home visits can still be accessed as an exception. We are trying to find out what the criteria are for home visits.
• There is still a telephone number that can be called, but this is not being widely published.
• Job Centre will be hosting “stakeholder meetings” where Reading Mencap can raise concerns.
• Job Centres can call on translators for appointments.
• Discretionary Council Tax support is available.
• There is a “work commitment” that cannot be changed without the agreement of the claimant.

4. Challenges

• Claims normally have to be made online, although there are some exceptions when a claim over the phone will be allowed, for instance because you have problems with reading or writing or are unable to use a computer.
• There is a need to upload a photo.
• Claimant must have an e-mail address and mobile phone number. Also a bank account.
• Requirement for ID, which should be a passport or driving licence. There is a process for those without, where a “trusted person” e.g. a GP, can vouch for them.
• Need to manage an online ‘to do list’ and journal for those who need to seek work. Communication is via messaging system on the online account.
• Disability advisors in Job Centre Plus can only be accessed by appointment.
• The five-man team based in the job centre who are providing digital support and personal budgeting support are not trained in learning disabilities or autism. We can offer training but we don’t know if they will take us up on this offer.
• Currently security guards are on the doors of the Job Centre and restricting access. The Job Centre is working to implement change to an open, accessible place.
• There are tiered processes and criteria for accessing split payments, more frequent payments or payments to third parties. All online. Social landlords can request a third party payment on line without the consent of the claimant. Private landlords can only do so with the claimant’s permission.
• New claims will take up to 6 weeks to process. An advance payment of up to 50% of the entitlement will be available to help bridge the gap. This must be paid back over the following 6 months. Same day payment can be made. We do not yet know if there will be a gap between the new claim for Universal Credit and the old payments, and how this can be managed.
• We have been told “the work commitment and its relationship to sanctioning is key”. We are waiting to find out what that means.

There is such a lot here that is very challenging to all our service users. It is very clear that details have yet to be worked out. The Government has taken an approach of go-live, and learn lessons and make changes as you go along. This means financial hardship, high anxiety, general distress and many other difficulties for our clients.
These are the questions to which we have asked for urgent responses:

1. How to access home visits
2. How to access Universal Credit via telephone
3. How does the process work that is involved in switching to Universal Credit. Will there be a gap between payment of current benefits and a Universal Credit claim?
4. How to access direct payments to landlords.
5. What deputies will do to facilitate the change to Universal Credit for those they support.
6. How to confirm people’s ID.
7. How to access the Disability Advisors at the Job Centre, and what is their role.

We will also raise with Social Services that everyone with a personal budget and support plan needs to have ‘support to access Universal credit’ included within their plan, bearing in mind the problems and challenges above.
Here are some resources for those claimants/potential claimants who are carers for a disabled child – they also include a lot of useful information for carers of adults with LD.