Citizens Advice Column - April/May 21
Understanding Universal Credit: A Post-Lockdown Guide For New Claimants
The number of people claiming Universal Credit (UC) has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic; and will increase. Here are some tips on how to manage a new claim post-lockdown.
Universal Credit – Key Features
Claiming UC remains a digital process with an online application form; and is managed through an ‘online journal’ with telephone, email and text communications to back this up.
The application process is two-fold. Part I sets up your UC account and verifies your ID. Part II gathers all relevant family, income and housing information required to assess your entitlement.
Following troubles last year, where the online ID verification process is not used, a ‘call-back’ from a work coach should be made to check your ID. A claim cannot progress without proof of your ID.
Once an account is set up you will have access to an ‘online journal’. This is your primary channel for ‘talking to your work coach’. This is the official record of your communications with UC. You must record every request, concern or change of circumstances as soon as you can on this journal.
You can arrange to have conventional payments varied. Payments can be split between partners or made fortnightly. The housing element (to pay your rent) can be paid directly to your landlords. Ask your work coach.
Finally, there is still a 5 week minimum wait for an on-time payment for those not migrating from legacy benefits. Advance payments are available but will be deducted from your first UC payments. You need to apply as soon as possible. Your claim only starts once you have submitted an online claim. Decide how you are going to manage until your first payments arrive.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I need my own bank account to claim UC? Yes, unless you are making a joint claim. The account must allow you to both make and receive automated payments. The application process will guide you if you do not have an account.
- Do I need my own email address? Yes, and (preferably) a phone number to create an online account. Help is available to set up an email account if you don’t have one.
- Does receiving Severe Disability Premium still mean I can’t claim UC? No. After a rule change in January 2021 those receiving SDP can now claim Universal Credit.
- I am pension age but my partner isn’t – do we have to claim UC? After a rule change in 2019 mixed age couples claiming an earnings replacement benefit must claim UC (unless exempt).
- What if I can’t use a computer, even with help? If you have no access to a computer, no computer skills and cannot manage an online claim even with help, you are entitled to ask for a ‘non-digital’ (telephone) claim.
Top Tips for UC applicants - Check, Challenge and Chase
The workload of, and stress on, UC work coaches is growing. To ensure your claim is being managed effectively:
Check – your payments and review your online journal regularly; be proactive.
Challenge – anything you think is not right and answer all requests for information; be responsive.
Chase – your work coach if updates to your claim are not being made quickly enough; be assertive.
To know more about your entitlement to UC visit www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/ or www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/.
To get free help to claim UC from a trained Citizens Advice adviser contact the Help-to-Claim project on 0800 144 8 444.
Remember, if you are in financial difficulty don’t wait; check your entitlement and make your application as soon as possible.
Our thanks to Coventry Citizens Advice (CCA) for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CA offices or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.