In Part 3 of a mini-series on Universal Credit (UC), we look at : How do you claim? When will you be paid? What help is there while you wait?
How do I claim UC?
The default setting is that you claim online. This involves:
- setting up an online account with UC with your own username and password
- making your claim by completing a series of to dos on that account
- receiving information, notifying changes, and doing a lot of ongoing communications with UC via your online account.
Some will much prefer this new way of doing things. Others may find it more of a challenge if they don’t have a device, reasonable broadband connection or familiarity with doing business online. UC want you to do it this way partly because it saves them a lot of admin costs, but also it helps you develop your online skills which may be good for jobseekers.
Support is available to get you started online and to help you make that online claim. From April 2019, that support will be delivered by Citizens Advice under their Help to Claim scheme. This helps you through to that first payment.
But in exceptional circumstances, if online is not going to be a viable option for you, then they will allow you to make a telephone claim. It is not just a matter of whether you can be helped to make an online claim. The question is also whether you could rmanage your ongoing UC account during your claim. DWP will steer you towards claiming online with some help if possible, but if you are not going to be able to manage online - for health, literacy or poor internet access - then they can take a telephone claim and follow up would be by phone and post.
If you absolutely insist on claiming by phone, regardless of any particular difficulties, they will let you. That will be kept under review with your work coach and you do lose some of the advantages of being able to do things online.
You can see a you tube video going through the process and showing you what your computer screen will look like see links below.
We’ll be looking at this in more detail in future blogs.
What happens then?
After you submit your claim you can have a go at verifying your identity online and you will accept a generalised short claimant commitment which may be all you need to do in relation to UC conditionality
Verifying your ID:
Online you may be able to do so via a special log in page with a selection of trusted partner organisations. Choose one you recognise and you go first to their website and if successful go back to UC with ID verified. However, online only works in 30% or so of cases
If not, then you need to show photo ID and proof of address to someone at DWP. This could be by attending an appointment at your local Job Centre Plus office, or if you are too unwell they can arrange to come out and visit you.
This is an individual personalised agreement in relation to any work requirements that may apply in your case. Everyone accepts a brief generalised commitment as part of your claim. In a couple each partner will have their own Claimant Commitment and may or may not have entirely different work requirements
Everyone accepts a brief generalised commitment as part of your claim Many people affected by cancer do not face any work requirements (whether because of unwellness or caring) so may not need to go into any further detail on a Claimant Commitment
If you do, then that would also be by meeting with someone from the DWP.
You are given a phone number to make an appointment / request a home visit in relation to both verifying ID and any further claimant commitment. It is worth ringing this even if you think you have got all this sorted online, just to confirm this and for them to log the call. The problem to avoid is that UC routinely - and probably unlawfully – close claims if you haven’t made that call within 7 days of submitting your claim. You could lose money and have to start again.
There may then be some further steps to take in relation to establishing your “limited capability” in relation to work or that you should be counted as a carer. You don’t need to establish either of these in order to receive UC, but doing so, may well increase the amount of UC you receive and your work requirements. We see what that involves below. Not doing so won't stop your UC but could mean less money and all the active work requirements of an active jobseeker.
The Claimant Commitment
This is an individual personalised agreement in relation to any work requirements or "conditionality " that may apply in your case.
Everyone has to accept a brief generalised commitment as they make their online claim, and that may be all that is needed. In a couple, each partner will have their own Claimant Commitment and each one might have totally different requirements in relation to looking for work.
Many people affected by cancer do not face any work requirements (whether because of unwellness or caring responsibilities), so you may not need to go any further than that initial online Claimant Commitment.
However, it may take a while for your "work condionality free" status is established, you may need to discuss an individual claimant commitment with a "work coach" at the local Jobcentre Plus office or as part of a home visit. This might be because you are newly unwell but there may not be any established plans for treatment .
At the end of your online claim, you are given a phone number to make an appointment / request a home visit in relation to both verifying ID and any further claimant commitment. It is worth ringing this number even if you have managed to evidence your ID on line and feel sure that you won't need an individual claimant commitment. The point is tfor them to record you have made the call and for them to confirm that indeed you do not need an appointment.
The danger is that without making that call - within 7 days of submitting your claim - UC routinely - and probably unlawfully – close claims. You cannot depend on them joining the dots and realising that you do not actually need an appointment. If you have successfully verified online and the circumstances in your claim suggest no work condionlity applies, you won't need one, but you cannot be sure that UC will know that.
There may then be some further steps to take in relation to establishing your “limited capability” in relation to work or that you should be counted as a carer. You don’t, though, need to establish either of these things in order to receive UC, as it is the general benefit to support all on lower incomes. But having that status means:
- you may well get more UC through additional "elements" included in your UC sums
- you have less or no work requirements placed on you
- those accepted as having limited cpability for work will get a Work Allowance which means they will ignore the first part of any earnings you do manage.
How will I be paid UC?
UC is paid monthly in arrears . The idea is again to mimic what hapens in a lot of work situations. The wrong assumption - in the early days when UC was seen largely as a new version of Joseeker's Allowance, is that most claimant will be arring at UC's doors with a month in hand. The reality that many may arrive with precious few resources was very slow to dawn, and the DWP were then very resistant to change
UC originally offered an up to 50% Advance Payment to tide you over. This was only available if claimed at certain times and UC were not in a rush to tell people about it. The result were some heart rending stories in the early days of Full Service UC : the arrangements were in some cases - causing destitution, debt and even disposession of homes on first contact. Rent arrears and food bank usage soared as UC rolled out. The media and MPs were shocked and change was forced on a reluctant DWP. That reluctance came because of the impacts on rolling out UC - a pause while they adjusted the Full Service UC computer and the end of the line for the Live Service one. In the end the DWP were reminded there priority is to run a benefits sytem not deliver on an IT project.
The wait until first payment remains - that is central to UC's design - still remains. However, several real improvements came in to ease the situation for those who don't have that last pay check or savings to see them through:
- Advance Payments are available much more easily and you can ask for up to 100% of the first payment. If you ask for less, but then realise you are struggling you can ask for a further Advance.- this applied from 1st January 2018
- the harsh practise of "waiting days" was stopped from 14.02. 18. These added another week on to the wait for that 1st Payment and that payment did not include any amount in respect of those waiting days.
- Those who had been receiving Housing Benefit (HB) immediately before starting a UC claim, get a 2 week run-on of that HB at the full rate, regardless of the amount of help they got while on HB. This is not a loan to be repaid and nor is it taken away from your first amount for rent within UC . This applied from 11th April 2018
- a similar two week run on of Income-related ESA, Income based JSA or Income Support, will be added on during managed migrations - it will begin in July 2020. Those involved in the "managed migration" pilots in North Yorkshire, will receive a special equivalent amount.
The run-ons will really help those switching from "legacy benefits". For new claims, it comes down to no longer not having any payment for the first week and being able to get an Advance Payment. All will help avoid those early financial crises that so many people faced while awaiting their first payment. The downside though is that Advance Payments have to be repaid - at 15% of your "standard allowance" ( the basic amount within UC) . This means that those receiving UC as a safety net benefit to keep them above the poverty line of a basic minimum income, will be forced below that line for up 12 months
Warning: Beware of an Advanced Payments scam.
Making Advance Payments easier to get was widely welcomed. People are reminded about them at their initial interview at Jobcentre Plus. But in opening these up to online application, the DWP unwittingly opened itself - and the public open to a criminal scam.
You need not be on any means tested benefit nor entitled to one to be caught in the scam. Essentiall the scam works by people contacting you - on the phone, social media or even on the streets - offering to sort out a "free Government grant or interest free loan". They will reassuringly tell you about their fee structure and stress they are only asking for basic setails to get things started (and certainly not any bank details etc)
All they want is just enough to start a UC claim without you knowing. They invent all the information on the claim to make for the maximum potential first payment of UC. They are though not interested in collecting that payment, nor in all the work to make up false evidence, ID and attend interviews to get that claim going. Their interest is to set up a claim, ask for an Advance Payment online and disappear.
You are left with a UC claim made in your name, a request for repayment and a termination of any legacy benefit claims. Ideally you will now be wary and hopefully won't get caught. Biut it could happen that you are: these are professional scammers with plausible patter. The DWP reaction has been initial denial and under pressure a promise to respond appropriately:
- they do now accept that many have been scammed
- they will investigate and can spot the features of this scam - no follow up evidence, attendance at interviews with claims often closed
- this may include an interview with you under caution - not because they suspect you but to make the evidence useable in any proccedings. Initial letters were rather poorly worded.
- if DWP see you as having been a victim of this scam, they will not be chasing you for that Advance Payment.
- but DWP have retreated from an early assurance to put you back to the place you were in before the scammers struck and that could be a real problem.
For many caught up the fraudulent claim is simply cancelled. and everything can be cleared up.
The problem remains is for those who were getting a "legacy benefit" before being caught up in the scam. They would eventually switch to UC anyway but may well be advised to hold off doing so until protected Managed Migrations" are availble. The protection covers any drop in benefits that you were getting and the standard rates of UC -see UC 2 Switching to UC for more details .
The trouble with switching now - even if you knew nothing about it - is that there is no protection and you drop down - in a corrected proper UC claim to the standard UC rates. At first the DWP said you could go back to where you were, now they are not sure if legally they can. Either DWP need to amend the regulations or offer you the protection ; otherwise they are at risk of adding their own more damaging scam to those of the criminals. Get advice and involve your local MP.
Advisers have suggested the way to end this scam is to make applications for Advance Payments to be at local DWP offices in person e.g. as part of your verification interview. An added provision would be needed for those who need that payment urgently, something DWP has managed in the past.
What happens for further payments after the first one?
There are two key dates that stay with you throughout your UC claim:
- the start and end of your monthly assessment period - this will be the date of each month when you first claim and it finishes on the day before
- your UC payday - your first payday will be seven days after the end of that first assessment period, brought forward if you hit a Bank Holiday.
For example, Andy claims on the 10th November 2019. That is the first day of his assessment period. It finishes on the 9th December and so on each month. His first payday will be on the 16th December 2019 and so on each month. If a bank holiday comes along he will be paid earlier.
The default arrangement outside N. Ireland is that you receive a single monthly payment per household, including any amounts to help with your rent. In the example of Andy that would be on the 16th of each month. However, "Alternative Payment Arrangements" are possible. These include:
- being paid more often - twice monthly or even weekly
- having your rent paid direct to your landlord
- splitting payments between couples.
The aim of UC is to stick with a single monthly payment if possible. In England and Wales, the alternatives will be considered if you really can't manage at the DWP's discretion. In Scotland you are given a free "Scottish Choices" letter after your first payment.: you are free to opt for twice monthly payments and rent direct to your landlord if you so wish. In N. Ireland the default switches to twice monthly and payments direct to landlord, but you are free to opt back to the standard UC arrangements
Scotland and N. ireland are aiming to split payments between couples as standard, as soon as powers are in place. That is also under review for the rest of the UK.
In Part 4 we will look at some particular issues around how the new general benefit of Universal Credit deals with issues around being too unwell for work or being a carer. There are some important differences compared to the old system, so it may not quite be the same as any previous experience you may have had under the old legacy benefits or what you may here from people's wise words of experience from having trod that path before.
We will also look at how you claim the linked but entirely separate New-style Employment and Support Allowance (Ns-ESA). You might claim that on its own - if your savings or other income (including that of any partner) stops you claiming UC at all. Or you might claim it alongside a claim for means tested help from Universal Credit.
Links and further reading:
Other parts in this series:
- UC 1: What is UC?
- UC 2: Switching to Universal Credit
- UC 4: UC Sickness and Carer issues and New-style ESA