Claiming Universal Credit now offers more than just a standard monthly allowance, following recent changes there are now additional benefits, discounts, grants and even a cash incentive for those moving over to the new Universal Credit scheme.
Universal Credit is a monthly payment intended to help with your living costs if you are on a low income receiving the NMW (National Minimum Wage 2020) or the NLW (National Living Wage 2020), out of work or cannot find work. The Universal Credit benefit replaces the six ‘legacy’ benefits including Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credit with a single monthly payment. You will work closely with the Job Centre Plus as a Universal Credit claimant. To find out how the Job Centre and Universal Credit work hand in hand check out this post.
Moving all eligible claimants onto the new Universal Credit scheme is expected to take until 2023, by which time 7 million people are forecast to be claiming. More than 2.5 million households have made a Universal Credit application since mid-March alone.1
Move from legacy benefits to Universal Credit2
If you have not yet switched from receiving legacy benefits over to the Universal Credit scheme, now is the time to do it.
As of Wednesday July 22, 2020, anyone already claiming income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Income Support, claiming Universal Credit instead will receive an extra cash payment worth up to two weeks of their legacy award.
This one-time payment known as a run-on, is intended to help people during their first assessment period, it does not have to be paid back and if you are eligible it will be paid automatically you when claiming Universal Credit for the first time.
If you are concerned about how switching over to the new Universal Credit benefit scheme will affect your payments, you can use a benefit calculator to help you see how much support you are entitled to through Universal Credit before moving.
You don’t have to wait to get paid
As the Universal Credit benefit is paid in arrears many would-be claimants are concerned that they will be left with no money while they wait for their first payment. Don’t let this put your off, you can request an upfront advance to help with the transition period. The government have paid more than one million new claims advances, getting hundreds of millions of pounds to those in urgent need within days of their claim.
50% off public transport
Public transport can be shockingly expensive, having recently enquired about the price of an annual season ticket we can certainly attest to this. But a three-month Jobcentre Plus travel discount card could make a huge difference getting you up to 50% off selected bus and train journeys.
The cards are awarded by Job Centre staff on a case by case basis but to be eligible one of the following must apply to you:
- You must be unemployed and in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance.
- Or, unemployed and claiming Universal Credit for 3 to 9 months if you are aged between 18 and 24.
- Or, unemployed and claiming Universal Credit for 3 to 12 months if you are 25 or over.
All train operators in England, Scotland and Wales including Transport for London accept the discount.
Flexible Support Fund grants can get you back on the job market
The Flexible Support Fund grant is intended to help cover the costs that starting work can bring. Clothing, uniform and travelling to interviews can soon add up and for many getting some help with these upfront costs can often mean the difference between getting back into work and not.
The Flexible Support Fund is not a loan, it is a grant that doesn’t have to be paid back and does not affect your monthly benefit payment.
The Flexible Support Fund is awarded by the Jobcentre Plus staff so get in touch with your local Jobcentre Plus and see if you are eligible.
If you are in work and on Universal Credit you can reclaim up to 85% of your childcare costs.
You can claim up to £646.35 per month if you have one child and up to £1,108.40 if you have two or more children.
To reclaim your childcare costs, you need to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) how much you paid in childcare costs by the end of the assessment period after you have paid the childcare charges.
This does mean you need to have paid the childcare changes yourself first in order to claim the money back. The Government has been under pressure to change the rule for Universal Credit claimants struggling to find the upfront cash themselves but currently the rule still stands, at least for now, so it is important to consider how you will pay the first set of costs in order to claim them back.
Reducing your council tax bills
If you're on Universal Credit your council tax bill could be reduced.
What your council tax bill is reduced by all depends on your household income, whether you have children, whether you're in work, and whether you own your home or rent it but it doesn’t hurt to ask so it is definitely worth checking to see if you can claim a reduction.
Different locations have varying schemes available so you will need to check the government website to find out if your local council offers a council tax reduction - sometimes known as council tax support and how you can apply.
Get a bonus just for saving
If there was ever an incentive to start saving this could be it. Help to Save is a type of government backed savings account for those entitled to Working Tax Credit or claiming Universal Credit. If you pay into a Help to Save account, you will get a bonus of 50p for every £1 you save.
You can save between £1 and £50 each calendar month but you do not have to pay money in every month. The bonus is paid out in two parts, the first after 2 years and second after 4 years. To apply for the Help to Save scheme visit the government website here.
Expecting? Claim a £500 Sure Start Maternity grant
Prams, car seats, clothes and nappies it soon adds up and a Sure Start Maternity grant could help. If you are claiming Universal Credit and expecting your first child or a multiple birth and have children already, you can claim a one-off payment of £500.
This is a grant not a loan so it doesn’t have to be paid back and it will not affect your benefits, but you must claim the grant within 11 weeks of the baby’s due date or within six months after the baby’s birth.
1. To apply for a Sure Start Maternity grant print out and fill in the Sure Start Maternity Grant (SF100) claim form. A health professional (such as a doctor or midwife) must also sign your claim form.
2. Post it to “Freepost DWP SSMG” - you do not need a postcode or a stamp.
Claim a Budgeting Advance for the cost you didn’t see coming
For those out of the blue expenses and household emergencies, as a Universal Credit claimant you could get help towards these unforeseen costs under what is known as a Budgeting Advance.
You could claim up to £348 if you are single, £464 if you are part of a couple or up to £812 if you have children. This is a loan and so does need to be paid back from your monthly Universal Credit payments. If you stop receiving Universal Credit you will still need to repay the loan.
To claim a Budgeting Advance you will need to contact your local Jobcentre Plus work coach.
Alternative Payment Arrangements (APA) could prevent you from falling behind in your rent payments
Juggling the bills and prioritising who to pay first is not easy. If you are struggling to juggle it all and are missing rent payments, you or your landlord could apply for an APA, Alternative Payment Arrangement. This means that your rent payment gets deducted from your Universal Credit payment and sent directly to your landlord, so you have one less thing to worry about.
If you are not yet claiming Universal Credit, are unsure if you are eligible for help or want to switch from legacy benefits to claiming Universal Credit, you can contact the Universal Credit hotline on 0800 328 5644 or visit the Understanding Universal Credit website.
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1 The Sun [Internet] https://www.thesun.co.uk/money/12369754/perks-millions-universal-credit-missing-childcare-costs-public-transport/