Universal Credit: everything you need to know, and everything you’re not being told

The DWP and Universal Credit logos in reference to a benefits crackdown
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Universal Credit is now the main social security that people on benefits claim from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But what is it? How do you claim it? How much do you get? Where did Universal Credit come from? And what are the problems with it you’re not hearing about? Here, the Canary explains all.

What is Universal Credit?

It’s the main benefit that people can claim from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now. Universal Credit has been replacing six old-style benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) since 2013. The DWP has gradually rolled it out across the UK. More and more people have been claiming it as time has gone on.

The DWP designed Universal Credit so that all types of claimants are entitled to it. Generally, it’s for people over the age of 18. This includes jobseekers, chronically ill and disabled people, and people who have caring responsibilities. They would have previously claimed ESA or JSA.  Also, people who don’t earn much money because of their job can claim it as well. They would have previously claimed Working Tax Credits.

How much is Universal Credit?

How much Universal Credit will I get?

That really depends on your circumstances. The DWP has made it quite complicated in terms of different payment rates. It breaks the benefit down into different parts (elements). However, the basic amounts (“standard allowance“) Universal Credit gives you are as follows.

If you’re aged under 25, from 1 April 2023 you’ll get:

Read on...

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  • £292.11 a month if you’re single.
  • £458.51 a month for couples (“joint claimants”).

If you’re aged over 25, you’ll get:

  • £368.74 a month if you’re single.
  • £578.82 a month for couples.

Then, you may be entitled to other parts of Universal Credit.

Kids, health and disability, and housing

If you have children, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) might give you more money to help you with their costs. However, it will only pay for up to two children. This is called the two-child limit. Under Universal Credit, you might get:

  • £315 a month for your first or only child. However, they need to have been born before 6 April 2017.
  • £269.58 a month for a second child, or for one child born after 6 April 2017.

If you have a child/children, the DWP might say you should be working when you’re not, or that you’re not working enough. It will then force you to do certain things to get Universal Credit. What these are depends on the age of your child:

Age of youngest child Your responsibilities Under 1 You do not need to look for work in order to receive Universal Credit. Age 1 If you are not already working, you do not need to look for work in order to receive Universal Credit. You will be asked to attend work-focused interviews with your work coach to discuss plans for a future move into work and will need to report any changes of circumstances. Age 2 You will be expected to take active steps to prepare for work. This will involve having regular work-focused interviews with your work coach, and agreeing a programme of activities tailored to your individual circumstances which might include some training and work preparation activities (for example, writing your CV). Age 3 or 4 You will be expected to work a maximum of 16 hours a week, or spend 16 hours a week looking for work. This might include some training and work-focused interviews. Age between 5 and 12 You will be expected to work a maximum of 25 hours a week, or spend 25 hours a week looking for work. This might include some training and work-focused interviews. Age 13 and above You will be expected to work a maximum of 35 hours a week, or spend 35 hours a week looking for work. This might include some training and work-focused interviews. Universal Credit, DWP, Department for Work and Pensions, Benefits

If you are a chronically ill or disabled person, you might get the Limited Capability for Work or Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) element. This means the DWP shouldn’t make you do anything regarding getting a job. It will give you:

However, to get this, you have to pass an assessment. There’s more on that further down this page.

If you’re an unpaid carer, the DWP may give you:

  • £185.86 a month.

The DWP might also give you the housing element. How much it will give you depends on a lot of things. So, it’s best to read the DWP’s guide on this here.

Man spends last day alive at a Jobcentre being told he's fit for work he dies on the way home DWP, Department for Work and Pensions, Benefits

Working, and work-related groups

You can work and claim Universal Credit as well.

How much can you earn and still get Universal Credit?

This depends on your circumstances. It also depends on whether you are part of a couple, and what the other person’s circumstances are. However, as a rough guide – if you have a child, or you have Limited Capability For Work, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will give you a Work Allowance. This is an amount you can earn before the DWP starts reducing your Universal Credit payments. The DWP will give you a Work Allowance of:

  • £379 a month if it also gives you the housing element.
  • £631 a month if it doesn’t give you the housing element.

After these amounts, the DWP starts deducting money off your Universal Credit. For every pound you earn, it takes 55p back from your benefits payment.

If you’re self-employed, the DWP also has rules around how much it thinks you should be earning. This is called the Minimum Income Floor. The DWP expects all self-employed claimants who can work full time to be earning the same as someone who does 35 hours a week at a minimum wage job. If the DWP doesn’t expect you to work full time, then the Minimum Income Floor is based on the number of hours it does expect you to do.

How many hours can you work on Universal Credit?

If you’re just working, and not claiming disability or health elements, then the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) doesn’t base your payments on how many hours you work. It bases them on how much you earn.

Once the DWP has decided what you’re entitled to, it puts you into a group. These are based on what it expects you to do regarding work. The DWP makes this decision based on your circumstances. For example, if it says you have LCWRA then it will put you in the “no work-related requirements group”:

Group What you'll need to do No work-related requirements group You don’t have to do anything to prepare or look for work Work-focused interview group You have to go to regular meetings with your work coach Work preparation group You have to meet your work coach regularly and also prepare for work. This includes things like writing a CV and going on training or work experience All work-related activity group You have to do all you can to find a job or earn more. This includes looking for jobs, applying for jobs and going to interviews Universal Credit, DWP, Department for Work and Pensions, Benefits

Is Universal Credit going up?

It already has. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will increase Universal Credit by 10.1% from 1 April 2023. However, benefit claimants won’t actually be seeing an increase in April, overall. In reality, the DWP will be taking people’s benefits back up to the rate they were at in April 2022. This is because the rising cost of everything (‘inflation’) has been more than the DWP’s 10.1% increase.

Moreover, Universal Credit rates will still not be worth as much as they were before the pandemic in April 2019. So, while the DWP may be giving claimants more money, it’s not giving them enough to make up for the fact everything is more expensive now.

The DWP is also giving out cost of living payments this year. It will give £301 to many households on Universal Credit as the first payment. This will hit people’s bank accounts between Tuesday 25 April and Wednesday 17 May.

However, for some people, these cost of living payments don’t make up for the DWP not increasing benefits properly with inflation. This includes families with three or more kids and some disabled people. So, in short, these families’ £301 payments aren’t enough to make up the inflation shortfall.

How to apply for Universal Credit

You can make an application here:

Apply for Universal Credit

If you are a disabled or chronically ill person, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will make you wait three months before it will pay you extra money for your condition. It may make you do a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This is where the DWP will assess whether you’re entitled to extra financial support.

You need to prepare for the WCA. Make sure you have as much evidence from doctors about your condition as you can get. Be prepared to explain to, and show, the DWP why you cannot do much work, or work at all. And if the department says you’re not entitled to extra money, always challenge this with a Mandatory Reconsideration – if you have the capacity to.

More advice on the WCA is available here.

Universal Credit login

If you already claim Universal Credit, or have done recently, you can access your account here:

Universal Credit Login

Does PIP affect Universal Credit?

No, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) does not affect Universal Credit at all. Its predecessor – Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – doesn’t, either.

PIP is not a means-tested benefit. That is, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, or just ‘doing OK’. The DWP will give you PIP if it says you’re chronically ill or disabled enough to get it. So, because PIP is not means tested, it has nothing to do with Universal Credit.

Breaking the government just lost a major court case giving 164000 disabled people the best Christmas present ever Universal Credit

Where did Universal Credit come from?

It was the idea of the Conservative Party – specifically Iain Duncan Smith MP and his think tank the Centre for Social Justice.

When the Tories were in opposition in the noughties, then-leader David Cameron asked Duncan Smith to come up with an idea to change the benefits system. He wanted to make the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cost less for the government, and also to stop poor people claiming benefits.

The Tories believe that poverty is partly the fault of poor people, due to things like education and addiction. So, Duncan Smith designed Universal Credit with the belief that people could get a job to get out of poverty. However, he also thought that Universal Credit should use punishments like sanctions and cutting people’s money to try to force them to stop claiming benefits and get into work.

Is poverty people’s fault?

So, the Tories think that if you’re poor, it’s probably your own fault – and that work is the best thing you can do to not be poor.

However, a lot of evidence shows this is not true. For example, bosses have been paying people really low wages for years. People are not earning as much (in real terms) now as they were in 2008. This is also the Conservative Party’s fault, as it’s been in government for most of that time.

For example, it has never set the rate of the national minimum wage at the level of the so-called “Real Living Wage“. So, bosses have always been able to get away with paying people really low wages.

DWP court case could see millions get £1500 Universal Credit, DWP, Department for Work and Pensions, Benefits

What are the problems with it?

Universal Credit has been controversial since it was launched. Here are some of its biggest scandals:

The Un is preparing to investigate the UK government again Universal Credit, Department for Work and Pensions, Benefits

Canary thoughts on Universal Credit

Victorian thinking

Steve Topple previously wrote for the Canary:

What drove all this thinking seems to me to be Victorian-era, Christian fundamentalist values. Essentially, the notion of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.

All of the contemporaneous… work pushes the idea that it’s poor people’s behaviours and attitudes that must change, not capitalism. It, of course, ignores the fact that its five “pathways to poverty” are all symptoms of capitalism itself; not of people’s bad behaviour.

But… [its architects] couldn’t acknowledge this, as it would naturally render them, and the capitalist-driven Conservative Party, null and void.

So essentially, their thinking was if you’re poor, you made yourself that way; shown in the “pathways to poverty”. To stop poor people being stupid and making themselves destitute, the government needed to shake up the benefits system; to nudge everyone possible into work, and those in work into more work; making welfare reliance impossible. And anyone left? It’s their own, stupid fault.

So to do this, the… [Tories] created Universal Credit.

But it would also put all those unwilling to help themselves out of poverty and welfare into one place. Sick, disabled, unemployed and low earning people would no longer be different, distinct benefit groups. They would become one, homogeneous ‘underclass’ of people. And, as the… [Tories’] early thinking shows, the state would give minimal support to these people. Instead, charities and communities should carry the burden of this workless/underemployed group.

A dystopian nightmare

Topple continued:

Universal Credit is the perfect vehicle for the 21st-century ‘Victorian mindset’. It sanctions low paid workers who aren’t doing enough to get more work; penalises lone parents; cuts free school meals; reduces support for disabled people with severe impairments. And, by design, it encourages people’s reliance on charity – note the rise of food banks.

Universal Credit’s history shows why… it cannot be ‘fixed’.

Its architects designed it to marginalise whole sections of society; to create a dystopian world where an underclass of people exists on its fringes.

Couple this with the government cutting public services left, right and centre; homelessness rocketing; social housing decimated –  and we are seeing a nightmarish vision, once reserved for science fiction, becoming a reality. Universal Credit needs to be stopped and scrapped.

Sadiq Khan just attacked the DWP. He should have saved his breath.

What can you do to change Universal Credit for the better?

You can get involved with grassroots campaign groups to protest and take action over Universal Credit. These include:

Got a story about your experience of Universal Credit? Email us via editors(at)thecanary.co

Featured image via the Canary and Wikimedia

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