Problems with Universal Credit for people in work

 

1. Waiting Period:

When you start to claim Universal Credit, there is at least a 7 week waiting period when you will receive no support – often longer whilst a claim is processed. Even if you are transferred onto UC from your existing benefits, the wait is likely to be at least 6 weeks.

What can I do?
If you are suffering hardship due to having to wait for your UC payment, you can apply for a short-term advance, although it will have to be paid back later on through your UC payments. See the advice from the Money Advice Service: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/support-while-waiting-for-benefit-payments
 

2. You have to pay your rent and Council Tax yourself:

Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit used to be paid directly to your landlord or Council Tax office; but under Universal Credit you receive the money to pay these bills yourself and you need to start paying them straight away before arrears build up. This can be difficult if you do not have the payment details or are not used to budgeting for such large amounts.

What can I do?
When you claim, check if your Universal Credit claim will include money towards your rent and/or Council Tax. If it will, contact your landlord and Council Tax office to advise them that you will be paying your bills directly, but you will have to wait until your UC payments start. If arrears build up while you are waiting for your first UC payment, most councils and landlords will let you pay them back over a few months under a payment plan. The Money Advice Service lists free independent debt advisors if you want help with this: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/debt-advice-locator
 

3. If you are paid 4-weekly, one UC payment per year will be reduced or may be nil:

Universal Credit is assessed on your income received during each month. If you are paid 4-weekly, you receive 13 pay packets in a year, and in one monthly assessment period, 2 of your pay packets will be assessed, rather than just one – meaning your Universal Credit payment that month will be considerably reduced.

If your 2 pay packets take you over the earnings limit for UC, you will not receive any payment for this month AND you will need to inform the UC office that you are re-claiming UC from the following month – otherwise their computer system will assume that you have ceased to be eligible and you will not receive payments in future unless you request them. However, you do not need to make a full new claim or undergo the 6 week waiting period.

What can I do?
Be prepared: Check the dates of your Universal Credit assessment period each month. It will be different for each person, based on the date 7 days after your UC application was received. E.g. It may be the 7th of one month to 6th of the next month, or 25th to 24th of the next month. Then check your 4-weekly wages dates to see which month you will be assessed for 2 pay packets. When you know which month will be affected, you can start to try to budget for a much reduced UC payment that month.
 
Request a Budgeting Advance: if you have been claiming UC for at least 6 months, you can request a Budgeting Advance to help you get by. See the advice from Citizen’s Advice:
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/on-universal-credit/budgeting-advance/
 
Although you usually need to have been claiming UC for at least 6 months, DWP have assured Usdaw that if someone misses a UC payment due to being paid 4-weekly, that they will still be able to access a Budgeting Advance if they need it. If you are being denied a Budgeting Advance in this situation, please contact Usdaw’s Political Office at politics@usdaw.org.uk or call 0161 249 2452 for assistance.
 
Inform the DWP immediately that you need to keep receiving UC: if you received no UC payment in one month, the DWP will assume your claim has ended, even if the nil payment was due to your 4-weekly pay periods. You need to inform the UC office as soon as possible that your UC claim will continue. You will not have to make a fresh claim in full or undergo the 6 week waiting period, just let them know if you have had any change of circumstances.
 

4. Pressure to increase your hours of work:

When you are on Universal Credit, if your wages are less than the equivalent of 35 hours per week at the minimum wage (currently 35 x £7.20 = £252 per week), you will be expected to seek to increase your wages up to this level by applying for additional work and will have to sign a ‘Claimant Commitment’ to say that you will do so. 
 
If you are the main carer for a child aged between 5 and 12, you are only expected to seek to work during school hours. If you are the main carer for child under 5, you are just expected to ‘prepare for work’, so you are ready to get a job as soon as your child goes to school.

If you cannot get enough extra hours at your existing workplace, you will be expected to apply for a second job or better-paid job at a distance of up to 90 minutes’ travel time away.

Sanctions: up to half of all working people on Universal Credit who are earning less than 35 hours a week at the minimum wage will be placed on a trial system to see which methods work best to ensure that claimants increase their hours of work and pay.
 
If you are part of the trial, you may be asked to attend additional interviews with your Work Coach, to apply for jobs on the Universal Jobsmatch website and to prove that you have spent the required number of hours per week looking for additional work. If you cannot prove that you have done what is asked of you, or you do not attend an interview without giving notice and a good reason, you may be subject to a sanction where your Universal Credit payments are reduced or stopped.
 
What can I do?
Challenge your Sanction: if you think you've been sanctioned unfairly, you can ask for the DWP to rethink their decision. This is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’ - the contact details will be on the letter sent to you about your sanction. You'll need to tell them why you think the sanction was wrong. See the advice from Citizen’s Advice at:
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/sanctions/if-youve-been-sanctioned/
 
You'll get a letter telling you about your decision - it may be changed or you may get an explanation of why the sanction is upheld. The letter will tell you how you can appeal to a tribunal if you're still unhappy with the decision.
 
Apply for a Hardship Payment: if you are having difficulty getting by while you are sanctioned, you can apply for a Hardship Payment. You will only be awarded a Hardship Payment if you cannot meet your immediate and most basic essential needs or those of a child you are responsible for, for example accommodation, heating and food and if you have made every effort to get alternative sources of support, for example from a charity.
 
Hardship Payments have to be paid back when your full level Universal Credit payments resume. See the advice from Turn2Us at: https://www.turn2us.org.uk/Benefit-guides/Hardship-Payment/Hardship-Payments-of-Universal-Credit

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