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The Essentials of Universal Credit

SarahUCESarahUCE Member Posts: 16 Courageous
edited August 2019 in Guest blogs

Sarah is part of the team at Universal Credit Essentials, a group of volunteer, work from home benefit experts who give up their time to help others understand and navigate their Universal Credit claims. Many of the team have disabilities, are carers or are parents of children with additional needs.

My health has been deteriorating for the past two years and a few months after I found myself in a position where I was no longer able to work, my partner was suddenly made redundant and we made our first claim for Universal Credit. After everything I’d heard about UC, I was quite frankly terrified. I took all the advice I could find and did a lot of research (to the extent my partner was sick of hearing about it!) and wanted to put my knowledge to use. I joined Universal Credit Essentials as a volunteer at the beginning of this year, I’d been following the team for a while and I could really relate to the founder’s story. Just two weeks before Christmas, with no savings, the creator Claire Sharp, found herself unexpectedly pushed onto UC, she was given wrong information time and time again which compounded the difficulties she had. Like many of us, Claire sought advice through social media advice groups. However, she quickly became frustrated with the amount of inaccurate and conflicting information being given and vowed to learn all she could about UC, eventually leading to the creation of UCE. The team quickly grew and we’re now a team of 13 from a variety of backgrounds. The majority of us have either our own disabilities or care for others who do and in my case, my office is basically my bed.

Universal Credit can be confusing and we found many members with inaccurate claims believed their lower awards (and sometimes the loss of hundreds of pounds!) to be correct and just accepted their lot. At UCE our aim is to educate and inform. There are many misconceptions about UC which leads to a lot of worry for people. We believe that if people understand how their claim is calculated it makes it easier to spot any errors. We teach people how to manually calculate what their award is and have found that by teaching people to calculate their award they can make an informed choice about whether to claim UC or not. 

Universal Credit is very different to existing benefits – known as legacy benefits – and brings together six existing benefits, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Child and/or Working Tax Credit. Currently only those who have a change in circumstances (and need to make a new claim for one of the legacy benefits being replaced) need to claim UC. But from January 2020, managed migration starts, and everyone will be transferred at some point in the following three years.


When a claim is made for Universal Credit this is all done online. This can feel very different for those who are used to claiming using a form or by going to the Job Centre. It can also be a barrier to claiming for some people.  There is ‘Help to Claim’ and anyone struggling should ask for help. As the claim is online it relies on claimants giving accurate information. This can lead to errors, and it is these errors we help to prevent if possible and challenge when they occur. Sometimes things go wrong because claimants are unaware they should include certain pieces of information and sometimes the error occurs because the DWP didn’t set the claim up accurately. I will share a few of the more common ones:

ESA transition: If you need to claim UC and have been claiming Income-related ESA, you need to let UC know. When you are asked if you have a fit note, you should say no and add a comment asking for your determined ESA award (state which group e.g. Support Group or WRAG) to be transferred to UC under transitional regulation 19.

Children: quite often children are missed off the first payment breakdown.  This is usually because UC haven’t completed their checks of have simply forgot to add them to the claim.  This is usually easily rectified with a phone call.

Rent: Universal Credit works differently to legacy benefits and everyone is entitled to their full eligible rent as an element whether they work or not. One of the most common problems we’ve encountered with rent is Untidy Tenancy. This happens when there is someone else on the tenancy, usually an ex-partner, who no longer lives at the property. Universal Credit then see that person as responsible for half the rent and pay the remaining half to the claimant. This is incorrect! At Universal Credit Essentials we have a template that members can add to their journal stating why they should get full rent element. This works very quickly with most seeing rent changed and back payment within a week or two.

If you find yourself being told to claim Universal Credit, we’d strongly advise three things:

1. Check your change of circumstance definitely means a switch to UC. Some people are incorrectly advised by HMRC, the DWP and Job Centre staff.

2. If you do have to move, manually calculate what you should be entitled to. There’s plenty of help out there, including from Scope and teams like ours at UCE. This will help you to spot any inaccuracies in your claim.

3. Check your award thoroughly, especially if it’s less than you were expecting. If you’ve followed step 2, you should know how much Universal Credit you should receive. Sometimes even the advisors and work coaches get things wrong. We’ve seen people told their claims are correct when they’re actually hundreds of pounds off. There are so many rules and regulations with UC and sadly not all DWP staff are fully aware of them.

Unfortunately, even when you know how the system should work, it doesn’t always go to plan. I’m currently chasing my own Work Capability Assessment and at the stage where I might need to get my MP involved, so please keep everything crossed for me!

How have you found Universal Credit, or are you yet to make the switch? Is there anything about Universal Credit you’d like to know?

Benefit adviser for Universal Credit Essentials

Replies

  • RoddyRoddy Member Posts: 389 Pioneering
    Hi @SarahUCE, Thank You for your insightful explanations, as I'm sure that I'm not the only one who finds Universal Credit difficult to fathom. One has to simply 'hope' that the information being provided by a 'work coach' or DWP is correct, and although with a lot of waiting and hard work, I did get my ESA backdated whilst it was placed on hold during my transition to UC...

    One thing that I would like to know, is whether or  I am entitled to any financial assistance with moving home, and of course the purchasing of essential white goods like a cooker, fridge, washing machine, bed, carpets & curtains etc. ?  

    I currently live in fully furnished sheltered accommodation and I have no kitchen of my own. However, I have been offered a bungalow which I'm viewing on 3rd September and it is 47 miles away from where I am now. I intend to take it, as it will give me more space and independence and I'll have a kitchen & bathroom of my own. I am only mobile if/when I use my mobility scooter and so of course the thought of me having to move my belongings is worrying me, not to mention trying to pay for or get hold of  the basic  items which I'll need coupled with their installation etc. I have no friends of family to assist me either.

    I currently receive PIP at the standard rate and Enhanced rate ESA which is paid with my UC, and that is all apart from Housing Benefit for where I still am.  
  • SarahUCESarahUCE Member Posts: 16 Courageous
    edited August 2019
    Hi @Roddy! Sadly experience shows that the advice given by the DWP and work coaches isn’t always correct so it’s worth double checking, sorry your ESA took longer than it should to be paid on Universals Credit, how frustrating!

    Do you have a support worker or a social worker at all? Depending on your location they may be able to access a welfare fund grant or welfare assistance https://www.turn2us.org.uk/Benefit-guides/Emergency-Information/Local-Welfare-Assistance. If the property is housing association they may have their own grants available too. 
    Different councils run different schemes too and some will help with white goods or have links to charities that can help. Support sadly isn’t consistent across all councils.

    It’s not well known but some energy suppliers also provide grants so it’s definitely worth looking around!

    A last resort would be a budgeting advance which you can get via Universal Credit, I say last resort mainly because it’s repayable whereas some of the other options will help you for free. 
    Benefit adviser for Universal Credit Essentials
  • SarahUCESarahUCE Member Posts: 16 Courageous
    I’ve added a link into my previous post with some more info on some of the grants available
    Benefit adviser for Universal Credit Essentials
  • RoddyRoddy Member Posts: 389 Pioneering
    SarahUCE said:
    I’ve added a link into my previous post with some more info on some of the grants available
    Thank You @SarahUCE, I'll check it out. I appreciate your guidance.
     
  • steve1steve1 Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Hi. I have been reading the comments about UC I am on ESA and pip on the middle rate I have spinal stenosis in my lower back and it my be Afflecking my neck as I am waiting for results from my m.r.i  scan my wife is my carrier I have just finished doing my renewal forms with help from imargo I think that's how you spell it. As the first one go rejected and had to go to court and one. But I also had to sign up for work at the job centre to get some money coming in and apply for jobs till I won the cout case which I never won't to do again and now I'm scared if they reject my ESA forms I will have to go through it all again and I don't no if I can cope with it.
  • SlhadenSlhaden Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Hi, I have Fibromyalgia, Spinal stenosis and cervical spondylosis, amongst other things and I am in receipt of PIP and in the LCWRA group for UC.

    My husband works and is now getting paid every 4 weeks. This means that in November of this year two of his pay days will fall in one UC assessment period so we will receive no UC the following month. Is there anything that can be done or are we just at the mercy of the assessment periods?

    Thank you.
  • zakbloodzakblood Member Posts: 419 Pioneering
    i've been on incapacity for most of my 20 years in the system and was told when it went to ESA i would be protect and never be any worse off, then the law changed and i lost free NHS, which i always received on incapacity, so as my tablets aren't now free, or my eyes or teeth, i'm worse off, so tend to not agree with anything the DWP says as with years of knowledge i now know what the DWP stands for, the department with prejudices,

    so you can keep you UC and your stories and tbh until the DWP is fit for purpose, wouldn't take there advice is they offered in with my weight in gold, and don't and won't trust them and everything is always better for them, not anyone else, so sorry, no thanks, not interested, and seems by the few replies, neither is anyone else 
  • SarahUCESarahUCE Member Posts: 16 Courageous
    edited August 2019
    Hi @steve1!

    It’s great you’re having help with your forms, sometimes having someone else help with the forms that understand the criteria more can really help improve the chances of award.

    If you aren’t successful with your ESA claim your next steps would be a little different this time. You won’t be able to apply for Job Seekers Allowance this time, you would have to claim Universal Credit. The only alternative would be for you not to claim anything, put in a mandatory reconsideration and if it that’s rejected go for tribunal and return to the assessment rate while waiting for tribunal. I understand that this isn’t an option for most people as it does mean potentially a few months with no ESA and nothing to replace it. 

    If you make a claim for Universal Credit you won’t be able to go back onto ESA even if your tribunal is successful. With regards to work searching on Universal Credit, although a fit note or pending ESA MR/Tribunal does not turn off commitments automatically, they should be tailored to take into account the persons capabilities and any health conditions they have. 

    Good luck with your forms, hopefully everything will go fine with your ESA but if it comes to it, we’d be happy to help you navigate UC. X
    Benefit adviser for Universal Credit Essentials
  • SarahUCESarahUCE Member Posts: 16 Courageous
    Hi @Slhaden!

    Assessment periods is something we get asked a lot about. I won’t bore you with all the different scenarios but they can really affect claims, especially for those paid weekly, 4 weekly, on varying days or the unfortunate people who work termly and are suddenly finding themselves benefit capped!

    As your husband is paid 4 weekly, it does mean there will be one time each year that two wages fall into an assessment period. This is because you receive 13 wages in a year but only 12 Universal Credit payments. Unfortunately there isn’t currently anything that can be done about it. We always advise people to mark off their pay days on a calendar so they can anticipate when this will fall. 

    Have you calculated whether this will still entitle you to any UC that month? 
    Benefit adviser for Universal Credit Essentials
  • SarahUCESarahUCE Member Posts: 16 Courageous
    edited August 2019
    Hi @zakblood

    It sounds like you’ve had a really rough run of it with the benefit system. 

    I just wanted to clarify something: 

    I don’t work for the DWP and neither do any of the Universal Credit Essentials team. We’re a group of people who got together (mostly after our own benefit claims were screwed up!) to help people understand the benefit system and get what they are entitled to. We’ve helped lots of people fix their claims and run a Facebook group with over 37,000 members answering hundreds of queries each day to ensure claimants get what they’re entitled to. 

    I’m sorry to hear you lost your entitlement to free dental, eye tests and prescriptions in the switch from incapacity to ESA. Would I be right in assuming you claim contribution based and have a partner that works? 

    Obviously I don’t know everything about your situation but would the NHS low income scheme apply to you? It may help with some of those costs. 
    https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/help-with-health-costs/nhs-low-income-scheme-lis/
    Benefit adviser for Universal Credit Essentials
  • zakbloodzakblood Member Posts: 419 Pioneering
    no i'm fine and tbh if you think i've had it ruff, you haven't spoken to many people, as i'm quite the norm now days, i get HC3, which amounts to a waste of space and paper, but thanks for the reply all the same and good luck with the FB group
  • Linda_T1964Linda_T1964 Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Hi SarahUCE,
    The company I work for have offered me a settlement because I cannot cope with work anymore even though I now just do an office job.With advice from a solicitor I have accepted the offer and will finish work on Aug 31st. My question is what do I apply for. do I have to apply for UC first then Contribution based ESA or ESA first. I am quite frankly petrified of doing this! HELP 
  • Joanne_ScopeJoanne_Scope Helpline, Scope adviser Posts: 190 Pioneering
    Hi @Roddy

    I have just been reading through @SarahUCE's posts and wanted to add a bit about Discretionary Housing Payments.
    These are claimed through your Local Council and they can help with removal costs.
    It might be worth contacting them to see if they can help.
    Joanne 
    Scope
  • RoddyRoddy Member Posts: 389 Pioneering
    Hi @Roddy

    I have just been reading through @SarahUCE's posts and wanted to add a bit about Discretionary Housing Payments.
    These are claimed through your Local Council and they can help with removal costs.
    It might be worth contacting them to see if they can help.
    Thank you @[email protected]_Scope, I'll contact them after the Bank Holiday weekend. 
  • cazza62cazza62 Member Posts: 60 Courageous
    Hello can I ask for a bit of advice plz

    I claim standard pip and I have been put into support group for ESA but I am still having to go to UC meetings and provide fit notes I was put in support group in june but they say its still not been put onto my UC journal and I still have to go to meetings 
  • Adrian_ScopeAdrian_Scope Testing Team, Community Team Posts: 7,940 Scope community team
    Hi @Linda_T1964, I'm sorry @SarahUCE hasn't been able to get back to you yet. 

    It can be daunting leaving the work
    place and trying to navigate the benefit system. Which you'd apply for would largely depend on your personal circumstances and how big the settlement is. 
    Universal Credit is means-tested so if the settlement is over £6,000 your UC will be reduced, it's over £16,000 you won't be able to apply for Universal Credit at all. New Style ESA is not affected by income so you can apply for this regardless of the size of your settlement. 

    Do you currently rent? If you need help with housing costs you'll have to make a claim for Universal Credit.

    I don't believe the order in which you apply makes any difference. @Joanne_Scope, do you have any advice? 
    Senior Community Partner
    Scope

    If you have a few minutes to spare, we'd appreciate your feedback on our online community.
  • Adrian_ScopeAdrian_Scope Testing Team, Community Team Posts: 7,940 Scope community team
    Hello @cazza62, sorry @SarahUCE hasn't spotted your query yet, but hopefully I can help a little.

    If you have a determined award for ESA and haven't been found fit for work, you should be in the relevant group under Universal Credit, as you are in Support Group ESA this is LCWRA on Universal Credit and you should not be required to hand in fit notes as this can trigger a separate assessment under Universal Credit.

    Have you spoken to your Case Manager at all? They should have sent an MPG1 form to ESA so that they can confirm your Support Group status. This is a fairly quick process and definitely shouldn't still be outstanding since June. 
    Are they deducting your ESA from your Universal Credit? 
    Senior Community Partner
    Scope

    If you have a few minutes to spare, we'd appreciate your feedback on our online community.
  • AilsAils Community champion Posts: 2,268 Disability Gamechanger
    Thanks for such an informative post @SarahUCE which is really helpful in giving us all an insight into what seems such a minefield!  Universal Credit hasn't been rolled out in my area yet and we are still on Housing Benefit along with my PIP, but not looking forward to the change as I am sure it will be full of difficulties!  Good luck with your own assessment, I hope it goes well!   :)
    Winner of the Scope New Volunteer Award 2019.   :)
  • Joanne_ScopeJoanne_Scope Helpline, Scope adviser Posts: 190 Pioneering
    Hi @cazza,
    I am not sure if you have seen the response on https://community.scope.org.uk/discussion/63221/confused-by-uc#latest?
    @BenefitsTrainingCo has put some info on there that is relevant to your situation.
    You can't claim Income Related ESA and UC. Are you currently getting New Style ESA based on your NI contributions and waiting for a top-up of UC? Or have you had a change of circumstances that has forced a move on to UC from IR ESA?
    If it is the second situation then @Adrian_Scope is right that you should be moved from the support group of ESA straight into the LCWRA group of UC.
    If it is a new UC claim made in addition to conts based ESA then there is a waiting period.
    Joanne 
    Scope
  • cazza62cazza62 Member Posts: 60 Courageous
    edited August 2019
    hi yes I have seen the answer thank you UC do seem to be dragging there heels a bit the advice was great and very helpful
  • Joanne_ScopeJoanne_Scope Helpline, Scope adviser Posts: 190 Pioneering
    I hope it gets sorted out soon for you!  :)
    Joanne 
    Scope
  • grandma46grandma46 Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Grandson aged 22 just finished residential college, been told  by LA he should claim UC and if does not LA will assume he has it and charge for care services to be provided. He is entitled to full PIP including mobility, though as yet this has not been reinstated since his return from college, despite numerous phone calls.
    Not sure where to start to support him (he is fully dependant physically and mentally). Parent on benefits but not been granted carers allowance for over a year for vacations and unable to find exact details why, told been overpaid in past but no details of how much or why. Letters of complaint ignored.
    Any advice appreciated. thanks

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