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Problems with Universal Credit for people in work

 

Problems with Universal Credit for people in work

On 1 April 2019 Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland announced the nationwide launch of the ‘Help to Claim’ service which provides support to those making their first claim to Universal Credit and helps them to receive their first full payment on time.

Visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/claiming/helptoclaim or https://www.cas.org.uk/helptoclaim (if you live in Scotland).

1. Waiting Period:
When you start to claim Universal Credit, there is at least a 5 week waiting period when you will receive no support. If you need help in the meantime, or if there is a delay in subsequent payments, you may be able to get an advance of Universal Credit.

What can I do?
If you are experiencing hardship because of 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.

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.

Official guidance says that your landlord can request that the payment be made to them, and this will be granted automatically if your rent is over two months in arrears. If you live in Scotland, you can request that payment be made directly to your landlord. Otherwise you may be able to request payment to your landlord under an ‘alternative payment arrangement’.

Visit the Gov.uk website for more information on alternative payment arrangements.

The Money Advice Service lists free independent debt advisors: 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 5 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 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/

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 5 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, 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. 
 
However, no work related requirements at all can be imposed on you if you are:
  • The responsible carer for a child under one
  • You are pregnant and there are 11 weeks or less before the week your baby is due; or
  • You had a baby not more than 15 weeks ago; or
  • You are an adopter and it is not more 12 months since your child was placed with you for adoption.
There are other exemptions from work related requirements for parents of children aged under 5, carers of disabled children or adults and sick and disabled adults.

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.

If you do not meet your ‘work related requirements’ you may be given a sanction which means your Universal Credit is paid at a reduced (or sometimes nil) rate for a period.

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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