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Eight questions about Universal Credit

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Many people who need support with a life change such as job loss, ill health, disability or having children may now be asked to claim Universal Credit. We’ve pulled together some of the key questions people have asked us about this benefit to help you understand what you need to do if you have to claim it.

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What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a single benefit for people of working age. It replaces these existing benefits and tax credits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
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What’s different about Universal Credit?

If you live in England or Wales:

  • You’ll get one single payment, paid monthly in arrears. This will go towards your living costs, housing costs and childcare costs if you have children
  • If you’re in a couple, only one of you will get the payment for both of you
  • If you pay rent, you’ll have to pay it directly to your landlord
  • Your universal credit payment is paid into your bank account.

If you don’t already have a bank account that can make and receive payments, you’ll have to set one up.

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What if I live in Scotland or Northern Ireland?

The payment arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland are slightly different.

If you’re in Scotland you can ask to get two monthly payments, instead of one, and pay your landlord directly.

In Northern Ireland, you automatically get two monthly payments, but can ask to be moved to monthly payments and pay your rent directly to your landlord.

Find out more about Universal Credit in Scotland

Find out more about Universal Credit in Northern Ireland

Will I be asked to claim Universal Credit?

If you’re making a new claim for the benefits being replaced by Universal Credit, you will now be asked to apply for Universal Credit.

You might also be asked to claim Universal Credit if you’re already claiming certain means-tested benefits and your circumstances change, for example, starting a new job, having a child, or your partner moving in or out.

Will I be worse off moving onto Universal Credit?

The way your Universal Credit payment will be worked out uses different rules.

Universal Credit payments are made up of a standard allowance plus payments (called elements) for your personal circumstances.

This means your award might be more or less than what you’re currently getting.

If you have to move onto Universal Credit you can use the Benefit and Budgeting calculator on the Policy in Practice website to work out if you will be better or worse off.

Before you move onto Universal Credit it’s a good idea to get advice from a Citizens Advice Help to Claim Service. They will be able to check that it’s the right move for you and support you through to your first full payment if you need it. 

Find out more about Help to Claim

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How long will I have to wait for my first payment?

One of the big differences between Universal Credit payments and the way existing benefit payments are paid is that you will be paid monthly in arrears.

This means you might have to wait several weeks for your first payment – on average around five weeks.

If you think you will miss essential bill payments during this time, talk to people that you might owe money to, like your energy supplier, to discuss what you can do. They can offer support, like energy grants, lower tariffs or payment holidays.

If you are worried about going into debt or don’t know what to say to people you owe money to, a free debt adviser will be able to talk through things you can do.

Do this as soon as you can to avoid debts piling up. Most people tell us they feel less stressed and anxious after getting debt advice.

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If you’re worried about paying your rent

Making you sure you keep a roof over your head can be a major worry if you have to wait several weeks for your first payment.

It’s important you talk to your landlord straightaway and let them know you are waiting for the money to be paid.

If you’re already getting Housing Benefit, this will be paid for a further two weeks after you’ve made your claim for Universal Credit, so you shouldn’t miss a rent payment. 

When you have got your first Universal Credit payment date, set up a Direct Debit or a standing order to pay your rent as soon as your Universal Credit payment or salary (if you’re working) comes in to your bank account. You may have to change your rent date.

In Scotland - remember that you can ask that rent be paid automatically to your landlord to help you manage payments if you haven’t already done so.

The Housing element of your Universal Credit payment may not cover all your housing costs if you have too many bedrooms for your needs or your rent is higher than the amount that you are entitled to.

If you are facing a rent shortfall, talk to your local council about applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment.

If you’re already in rent arrears talk to your work coach about setting Direct Payments to your landlord. This means your rent payments will go straight to them until you can get back on your feet again.

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If you’ve little or no money coming in

If you will really struggle to manage until your first payment you can ask for an advance payment from your work coach.

You can get up to a full month’s payment as an advance. But you will have to pay this back from future Universal Credit payments over 24 months – so only apply for as much as you need.

Find out how to apply for a Universal Credit advance on GOV.UK (Opens in a new window)

Your work coach may also be able to put you in touch with local support and help you can get with everyday costs, such as food and gas or electricity payments.

You can call the free Universal Credit helpline on:

Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344

8am - 6pm, Monday to Friday (closed on bank and public holidays). Calls are free. 

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