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What is Universal Credit?

Photo: Universal Credit is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

Universal Credit is a new benefit for working age people who are on a low income or out of work to help with living and housing costs. It's means tested, so how much you get depends on your circumstances and if you have any other money or savings. 

It might be worth claiming Universal Credit if:

  • you’re struggling to pay the bills
  • you’ve lost your job and have no income
  • you have a disability or illness that stops you working
  • you’re caring for someone

Universal Credit is replacing these benefits:

  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Support for Mortgage Interest

If you already receive a means tested benefit check with a specialist Benefits adviser before applying for Universal Credit - some people are worse off if they change. Contact our Helpline for help finding a specialist in your area. 

Can I get Universal Credit?

You may be able to get Universal Credit if:

  • you’re on a low income or out of work
  • you’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re 16-17, see below)
  • you’re under State Pension age(or your partner is)
  • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you, and
  • you live in the UK.

16-17 year olds:

If you're 16-17 years old you're not usually able to apply for Universal Credit unless you are no longer supported by your parents or in some cases if you are a disabled student. If you apply for Universal Credit and are still being supported by your parents or living at home it may affect benefits your parents are already receiving - check with them first before you apply. 

Disabled students:

To qualify for Universal Credit as a disabled student you must:

  • be under 21 and doing a course that will lead to a qualification at the same level as or below A level or equivalent (Scottish Highers, NVQ up to level 3) and cannot live with your parents
  • receive Personal Independence Payments (PIP)
  • have "limited capability for work" which means your deafness, disability or medical condition make it harder for you to do some activities at work.
What can I get through Universal Credit?

How much money you will get depends on your circumstances. The following circumstances will affect how much you receive: 

  • you’re a carer
  • you have a child/children
  • you pass a work capability assessment
  • your income
  • your rent or housing costs*
  • you have capital over £6000.

If you are employed but your wages can go up and down each month then the amount you receive through Universal Credit will vary.

You can use a benefits calculator to find out how much you could receive. 

Universal Credit can also help you get other types of support like:

  • a work coach
  • employment support
  • discounts on leisure activities
  • payment towards some health costs.

*You usually cannot get help with rent if you are renting from your parents and they live in the same home as you. There are some exceptions and more information can be found here

If you are joint tenants with your parents and have a private landlord you may be able to get a share of the rent. If you live in temporary or supported housing you will need to apply for housing benefit instead. For more information and help you can get advice from Shelter.

How does my deafness affect Universal Credit?

Being deaf may mean you need extra support and find some things harder to do when it comes to finding a job

Depending on how your deafness affects you, you may be entitled to extra money to help you look for a job and to meet extra costs. To find out if you are entitled to extra money or support because of your deafness you would need to have a work capability assessment

How do I apply for universal credit?

It's usually quickest to claim Universal Credit online. If you have questions about your claim or you're struggling to apply online you can can contact the Universal Credit helpline by phone, textphone or Relay UK. They can also arrange for someone to visit you in person to help you claim Universal Credit. 

If you live in England, Wales or Scotland Citizens Advice offer help to claim Universal Credit:

Get Help to Claim:

Some people who are deaf can struggle to communicate with the Department of Work and Pensions. If you are having difficulty contacting them you can make a complaint - contact our Helpline for advice with this. 

After applying most people have to attend the Jobcentre with ID documents and talk about work options. You'll usually receive a payment within six weeks of completing your claim but you can ask for a payment in advance but you will have to pay this back.

If you're a student, already receiving other benefits or originally from another country remember to get advice before you apply for Universal Credit. 

Checklist for applying

 To claim universal credit you will need the following:

  • Your National Insurance number
  • An email address - if you don't have an email address already you will need to set one up to apply
  • A bank, building society or post office account for the money to be paid into
  • Proof of identity such as a passport, debit card or driving license (if you don’t have any of these you should get specialist advice)
  • Details about your income and savings (keep your payslip and bank statements handy)
  • Details about your rent or housing costs like rent receipts, tenancy agreement or information from your mortgage lender.

When you start your claim online you will receive an activation code. You have 28 days to use this code and complete your registration.

If you live with your partner they will also need to apply and your claims will be linked.

If you've claimed Universal Credit before you can start a new claim by logging in to the same account you used before. 

What is a Claimant Commitment?

To receive Universal Credit everyone has to agree to a claimant commitment. Your claimant commitment outlines what you need to do to continue receiving Universal Credit. What you need to do depends on your situation but can include activities to help you find a job, like writing a CV, applying for jobs or going on training courses. If you are a student claiming Universal Credit it is unlikely you will have to do anything under your claimant commitment. 

The claimant commitment should be tailored to your needs. If you need to change your commitment you should write this in your online journal and tell your work coach. If they don't agree to change it you can make a complaint. If you are sanctioned (benefit stopped) for failing to meet the commitment you can appeal. See challenging decisions below for information about complaints and appeals. 

I've completed my application, what happens next?

Once you've completed your application your claim will be assessed to find out how much money you can get. 

You'll usually receive a payment within six weeks of completing your claim. You can ask for a payment in advance but you will have to pay it back.

You'll receive the payments directly into your bank account usually every month in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. if you live in Scotland you can receive your payments weekly. See our information about managing your money for help making a budget. 

Things you need to do whilst on Universal Credit are set out in a ‘to do’ list on your online account. This can include things you need to do to complete your claim or things that you have to do as part of your claimant commitment. When you complete these things they will move to your ‘journal’. Your journal is your record of everything you’ve done whilst claiming Universal Credit. You can also use your journal to send and receive messages with your work coach.

You'll also need to follow your claimant commitment otherwise your money could be stopped. If you don't agree with the commitment or you want to change it you can ask your work coach. If they say no and you think they're wrong you can complain.  See our section on the complaints process. If you think they are treating you unfairly because of your deafness you might be able to use the Equality Act. You can contact our Helpline to discuss this further. 

If you receive Universal Credit it's important to tell your work coach about any changes in your circumstances as this could affect the amount you receive and cause an overpayment, which you would need to pay back.

Is there other help I can get if I receive Universal Credit?

If you receive Universal Credit you, your partner or children could get help with other things including:

  • Free health and dental care
  • School meals
  • Legal Aid and court fee exemptions
  • Early years child care
  • Education grants
  • Council tax support or rates relief
Can Universal Credit help me to find a job?

The work coach is there to help you if you are looking for work or want to increase your income perhaps because you are working part time or on a low salary. 

Jobcentres run different schemes to help you, this could include CV writing clubs, support groups or access to local employers. Each work coach has access to a Disability Employment Adviser who can give advice about what sort of help you might need at work or what sort of adjustments an employer might need to make. They can also help you to access help with interviews, like getting a BSL interpreter.

In England and Wales you may be able to get help through the Work and Health Programme, you can ask your work coach if you are eligible https://www.gov.uk/work-health-programme

If you are looking for work you might find our deaf-specific careers advice helpful. 

How long is Universal Credit paid for?

Universal Credit stops if you no longer meet the criteria, for example if you move abroad or your earnings increase. 

Your Universal Credit can also stop or be reduced if you don’t do something in your claimant commitment - this is called a sanction. If you are struggling with money because of a sanction you can apply for a hardship payment by contacting the Universal Credit Helpline. You may also be able to challenge this decision - see below. 

Can I challenge a decision?

You can ask for most decisions to be looked at again if you think they've made a mistake - this includes decisions about how much money you're entitled to and sanctions.

If you think they've made a mistake the first step is to ask for a mandatory reconsideration. If your claim is still open you should write this in your online journal but it's a good idea to contact them. If your claim has been closed you won’t be able to use your journal and will need to contact the Universal Credit Helpline. If the decision remains the same after a mandatory reconsideration then you can lodge an appeal and the decision will be looked at again at a tribunal. 

If you're not happy with how your claim has been handled, including if they have taken a long time or they have failed to contact you properly because of your deafness, you can complain. You can find more information on the complaints procedure here

If you are challenging a Universal Credit decision or making a complaint it is important to get specialist advice. Contact our Helpline and we can sign post you to a specialist in your area. 

Useful websites

Benefit checks - www.turn2us.org.uk  

Benefit checks and universal credit content - www.entitledto.co.uk  

Find local advice - https://advicelocal.uk 

Gov.uk - https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit 

NI Direct - https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/universal-credit

Equality Advisory Service - http://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/app/home

Citizens Advice - www.citizensadvice.co.uk