- What is welfare reform?
The government has been introducing changes to the welfare benefits system since April 2013 and this is known as welfare reform. These changes include:
- Introduction of Universal Credit
- Benefit cap
- Under occupation charge – also known as Bedroom tax
You can find out more about each of these changes in the links below.
- What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a benefit for working age people that replaces a number of existing benefits and tax credits. It is designed to support people who have a low income, or who are out of work with their basic living expenses and housing costs.
Universal Credit will replace the following benefits and tax credits with one single monthly payment:
• Child Tax Credit
• Housing Benefit
• Income Support
• income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
• income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
• Working Tax Credit
You’ll go on to Universal Credit if you’re claiming benefits for the first time, or if you’re already on benefits and have a change in circumstances.
Already claiming existing benefits?
If you’re claiming any of the above benefits, and your work, home or family situation changes, you might need to move on to Universal Credit. Not every change of circumstances means you need to change your benefits. For more information on this take a look at 'Changes you need to report' on the gov.uk website.
If you haven’t had a change of circumstances, you won’t usually need to claim Universal Credit until the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sends you a letter. The government’s plan is to move existing benefit claimants over to Universal Credit by September 2024.
You can choose to move onto Universal Credit at any time if you want to. If you claim Universal Credit you won't be able to go back to the benefits it's replacing.
Everyone who claims Universal Credit will make an agreement called a ‘Claimant Commitment’ with their work coach.
Everyone has to agree to a commitment at this stage, even if they are ill or cannot work. You will work out in detail with your work coach what you will have to do under that commitment.
Your Universal Credit payments may be cut if you don’t meet your agreed commitments.
Find out more about your Claimant Commitment on the gov.uk website
- Who can apply for Universal Credit?
You may be able to claim Universal Credit if:
• you’re on a low income or out of work
• you’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re 16 to 17)
• you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
• you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
• you live in the UK
Find out more about who can apply, including if you're in education, or aged 16 or 17.
- How and when you’ll be paid
Universal Credit is a single, monthly payment.
It is normally paid directly into an account in your name, such as a bank, building society or credit union account or post office card system account. This will need to be a current account, not a savings account. If you don’t have one, the Money Advice Service website can help you choose the account that’s right for you.
If you are part of a couple, living in the same household, and both of you are claiming Universal Credit, you will receive one monthly household payment. In exceptional circumstances a Universal Credit payment can be divided between 2 members of a household. This is known as a split payment.
You’ll be able to view your payment details in your online Universal Credit account.
Find you more about how you're paid on the gov.uk website
- How much could you get?
Check before you apply
Before applying for Universal Credit for the first time it’s important to check how it can affect other benefits you’re already getting or may be entitled to. In some cases, it might make sense to apply for a different benefit instead of or alongside Universal Credit. And if you (and your partner if you’re in a couple) are already getting certain benefits or tax credits it may not always make sense to move to Universal Credit. In some cases you could end up worse off and unable to go back.
For more advice contact the Citizens Advice Help to Claim service. Advisers are available 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
Call on: 0800 144 8 444
Help to Claim web chat
(If no advisers are available they'll remove the chat button from this page.)
How much could you get?
How much money you could get is worked out in two steps. First, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) works out what it thinks you should need to live on, based on your household’s circumstances. Next, it takes away some of the income you have coming in.
How much Universal Credit you get will depend on your earnings. Take a look at the gov.uk website for current allowances.
Your Universal Credit payment is made up of a standard allowance and any extra amounts that apply to you, for example if you:
- have children
- have a disability or health condition which prevents you from working
- need help paying your rent
If you live as a couple
If you live as a couple and you claim Universal Credit, you’ll get a single monthly payment for your household so you might need to make some changes to the way you budget.
There's some great advice and support on the Money Advice Service website about how Universal Credit affects couples.
You can use an independent benefits calculator to see how much you could get:
- How your earnings affect your payments
You can work and still get Universal Credit and there’s no limit to how many hours you can work.
If you’re employed, how much Universal Credit you get will depend on your earnings. Your Universal Credit payment will reduce gradually as you earn more - for every £1 you earn your payment reduces by 63p.
Take a look at the Turn2Us income and Universal Credit guidance on their website.
- How do you apply for Universal Credit?
In most cases you have to claim Universal Credit online, so you’ll need access to the internet and an email account.
You also need a bank account, as this is how your universal credit is paid to you.
Step by step guide: Take a look at the gov.uk website for a step by step guide of how to apply for Universal Credit.
Your online application
To apply online, you'll first need to set up an online account on the gov.uk website.
If you live with your partner, they will also need to set up an account. You'll be given a code to link the accounts together.
The video below shows you how to set up your Universal Credit account:
Once you've set up your account you can begin your Universal Credit application.
Completing an online claim takes about 20 minutes for a single person and an hour for a couple.
You must submit your claim within 28 days of creating your account.
The video below shows you how to complete the application:
What you'll need to apply
If you don't provide the right information when you apply it might affect when you get paid or how much you get.
So, before you sit down at a computer to make your claim, make sure you have the following information to hand:
- Your National Insurance Number
- Your email address
- Your phone number
- Your address
- Your landlord’s address
- How much rent you pay (proof may be required, such as a tenancy agreement)
- your bank, building society or credit union account details (call the Universal Credit helpline if you do not have one)
- Details of any savings or investments you have
- Full details of your salary, such as your payslips, or any other income (including other benefits)
- Details of how much you pay for childcare if you’re applying for help with childcare costs
If you have children:
- Their details, including Child Benefit number
- Childcare provider’s address and registration number
You also have to verify your identity online. You’ll need some proof of identity for this, for example your:
- driving licence
- debit or credit card
If you cannot verify your identity online, the Universal Credit team will phone you to help you verify your identity.
Support with your application
If you need help with your application, please get in touch with us on 0300 1234 009 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There's also lots of support available from external support agencies:
Citizens Advice Help to Claim service
The Citizens Advice Help to Claim service can support you in the early stages of your Universal Credit claim, from the online application, through to support with your application before your first full payment.
It’s a free, independent and confidential service provided by trained advisers from Citizens Advice.
Call 0800 144 8444
Find out more on the Help to Claim website
Take a look at the Turn2Us How to Claim guidance on their website.
Universal Credit helpline
Contact the Universal Credit helpline if:
- you cannot use digital services at all, this might be due to disability or your circumstances
- you have a question about your claim and cannot access your online claim
Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
Universal Credit helpline website
- Universal Credit housing costs and paying your rent
If you and/or your partner are responsible for paying rent for the home you live in, or if you have a mortgage, Universal Credit may provide help towards the cost. This is called Universal Credit housing costs.
Claiming housing costs
When you make a new claim for Universal Credit your housing costs will usually be paid as part of your Universal Credit payment. If you are receiving Housing Benefit, the Department for Work and Pensions will contact your local authority to stop your Housing Benefit payments. At this point you will receive an additional payment of 2 weeks’ worth of Housing Benefit to support you as you move to Universal Credit.
Paying your rent
For most people, your Universal Credit payment will include money for your rent and it’s your responsibility you to make sure you pay that rent to us as your landlord. Our tenancy agreement says that you have to pay your rent in advance and once you are transferred to Universal Credit, you will need to make sure that it is paid on time.
If you are worried you might struggle to do this, you can ask for the money to be paid direct to your landlord instead.
Support and advice to manage rent payments
Take a look at our 'Are you worried about money' webpages for details of how we can support and help you.
There's also lots of advice about managing rent payments on universal credit on the Money Advice Service website.
If your housing payment does not cover all your rent
If you're struggling to cover the costs of your rent you can apply for extra help from your local council - called a Discretionary Housing Payment.
If you're living in a shared ownership property, you can get help paying the rent and mortgage interest. You get the payment and you have to pay it to your housing association and mortgage company.
Find out more about the Discretionary Housing Payment on the Turn2Us website.
To apply for the payment, contact your council.
Further information about housing costs
Find out more about Universal Credit housing costs on the gov.uk website
There is also useful information on the Turn2Us website
- Universal Credit and New Style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
If you have worked as an employee and paid enough National Insurance contributions you may also be able to get either New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
You need to apply for New Style JSA or New Style ESA separately to Universal Credit. You can apply for them and Universal Credit at the same time. If you get these benefits at the same time as you get Universal Credit, your Universal Credit payments will be reduced. For every £1 you receive from them, your Universal Credit payment will be reduced by £1.
For help and support with a JSA or ESA application, contact the Jobcentre Plus helpline on 0800 169 0310
- Universal Credit and Council Tax Support
If you receive Universal Credit you may get a reduction on your Council Tax. This will depend on your circumstances and where you live.
Apply for Local Council Tax Reduction
If you are claiming Universal Credit for the first time you should apply for Local Council Tax Reduction straight away, as many local councils will not backdate it for you. You do not need to wait until your claim for Universal Credit has been approved or paid.
Previously, housing benefit and council tax support were claimed together on the same form, but now Universal Credit (which contains a housing element) is claimed online from the Department of Work and Pensions, and council tax support from you local authority.
Contact your local council to apply for a council tax reduction
- More information about Universal Credit
- Overall benefit cap
As part of the welfare reforms, there is now a cap on the total amount of benefits which most working-age people can claim. The cap applies to the benefits you get as a household. This means that benefits received by you, your partner and dependent children who live with you, are all included. Your housing benefit or universal credit will be reduced to ensure that you don't get more than the benefit cap limit.
The total amount a household will be able to claim in benefits is:-
- For single parents and couples with children: £385 a week (outside London)
- For single people: £258 a week (outside London)
- Under occupation charge (Bedroom tax)
An under occupancy charge can be applied to anyone who is of working age, in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit AND have more bedrooms in their property than the government think that they need.
If a household is deemed to have more bedrooms than needed by the people who live there, they will have their benefits reduced.
The reduction will be 14% for one additional bedroom and 25% for two additional bedrooms.
You can find out more about this on the entitledto website.