Universal Credit, benefits and welfare reforms

universal credit signpost

What are Universal Credit and welfare reforms?

  • What is welfare reform?

    The government has been introducing changes to the welfare benefits system since April 2013 and this is known as welfare reform. These changes include:

    • Introduction of Universal Credit
    • Benefit cap
    • Under occupation charge – also known as Bedroom tax

    You can find out more about each of these changes in the links below.

  • What is Universal Credit?

    Universal Credit is a benefit for working age people that replaces a number of existing benefits and tax credits. It is designed to support people who have a low income, or who are out of work with their basic living expenses and housing costs.

    Universal Credit will replace the following benefits and tax credits with one single monthly payment:

    • Child Tax Credit
    • Housing Benefit
    • Income Support
    • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
    • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
    • Working Tax Credit

    You’ll go on to Universal Credit if you’re claiming benefits for the first time, or if you’re already on benefits and have a change in circumstances.

    Already claiming existing benefits?

    If you’re claiming any of the above benefits, and your work, home or family situation changes, you might need to move on to Universal Credit. Not every change of circumstances means you need to change your benefits. For more information on this take a look at 'Changes you need to report' on the gov.uk website.

    If you haven’t had a change of circumstances, you won’t usually need to claim Universal Credit until the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sends you a letter.  The government’s plan is to move existing benefit claimants over to Universal Credit by September 2024.

    You can choose to move onto Universal Credit at any time if you want to. If you claim Universal Credit you won't be able to go back to the benefits it's replacing.

    Your commitment

    Everyone who claims Universal Credit will make an agreement called a ‘Claimant Commitment’ with their work coach.

    Everyone has to agree to a commitment at this stage, even if they are ill or cannot work. You will work out in detail with your work coach what you will have to do under that commitment.

    Your Universal Credit payments may be cut if you don’t meet your agreed commitments.

    Find out more about your Claimant Commitment on the gov.uk website

  • Who can apply for Universal Credit?

    You may be able to claim 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 to 17)
    • you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
    • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
    • you live in the UK

    Find out more about who can apply, including if you're in education, or aged 16 or 17.

  • Overall benefit cap

    As part of the welfare reforms, there is now a cap on the total amount of benefits which most working-age people can claim.  The cap applies to the benefits you get as a household. This means that benefits received by you, your partner and dependent children who live with you, are all included.  Your housing benefit or universal credit will be reduced to ensure that you don't get more than the benefit cap limit.

    The total amount a household will be able to claim in benefits is:-

    • For single parents and couples with children: £385 a week (outside London)
    • For single people: £258 a week (outside London)

    You can find out more information about whether the cap applies to you by visiting the gov.uk website or by seeking advice from Citizens Advice or Shelter.

  • Under occupation charge (Bedroom tax)

    An under occupancy charge can be applied to anyone who is of working age, in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit AND have more bedrooms in their property than the government think that they need.

    If a household is deemed to have more bedrooms than needed by the people who live there, they will have their benefits reduced.

    The reduction will be 14% for one additional bedroom and 25% for two additional bedrooms.

    You can find out more about this on the entitledto website.

Universal Credit – income and payments

  • Who can apply for Universal Credit?

    You may be able to claim 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 to 17)
    • you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
    • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
    • you live in the UK

    Find out more about who can apply, including if you're in education, or aged 16 or 17.

  • How and when you’ll be paid

    Universal Credit is a single, monthly payment.

    It is normally paid directly into an account in your name, such as a bank, building society or credit union account or post office card system account. This will need to be a current account, not a savings account. If you don’t have one, the Money Advice Service website can help you choose the account that’s right for you.

    If you are part of a couple, living in the same household, and both of you are claiming Universal Credit, you will receive one monthly household payment. In exceptional circumstances a Universal Credit payment can be divided between 2 members of a household. This is known as a split payment.

    You’ll be able to view your payment details in your online Universal Credit account.

    Find you more about how you're paid on the gov.uk website

  • How much could you get?

    Check before you apply

    Before applying for Universal Credit for the first time it’s important to check how it can affect other benefits you’re already getting or may be entitled to. In some cases, it might make sense to apply for a different benefit instead of or alongside Universal Credit. And if you (and your partner if you’re in a couple) are already getting certain benefits or tax credits it may not always make sense to move to Universal Credit. In some cases you could end up worse off and unable to go back.

    For more advice contact the Citizens Advice Help to Claim service. Advisers are available 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

    Call on: 0800 144 8 444
    Help to Claim web chat
    (If no advisers are available they'll remove the chat button from this page.)

    How much could you get?

    How much money you could get is worked out in two steps. First, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) works out what it thinks you should need to live on, based on your household’s circumstances. Next, it takes away some of the income you have coming in.

    How much Universal Credit you get will depend on your earnings. Take a look at the gov.uk website for current allowances.

    Your Universal Credit payment is made up of a standard allowance and any extra amounts that apply to you, for example if you:

    • have children
    • have a disability or health condition which prevents you from working
    • need help paying your rent

    If you live as a couple

    If you live as a couple and you claim Universal Credit, you’ll get a single monthly payment for your household so you might need to make some changes to the way you budget.

    There's some great advice and support on the Money Advice Service website about how Universal Credit affects couples.

    Benefits calculators

    You can use an independent benefits calculator to see how much you could get:

    Turn2Us benefits calculator

    Entitledto benefits calculator

  • How do your earnings affect your payments?

    You can work and still get Universal Credit and there’s no limit to how many hours you can work.

    If you’re employed, how much Universal Credit you get will depend on your earnings. Your Universal Credit payment will reduce gradually as you earn more - for every £1 you earn your payment reduces by 63p.

    Take a look at the Turn2Us income and Universal Credit guidance on their website.

Universal Credit – help with housing costs

  • Universal Credit housing costs and paying your rent

    If you and/or your partner are responsible for paying rent for the home you live in, or if you have a mortgage, Universal Credit may provide help towards the cost. This is called Universal Credit housing costs.

    Claiming housing costs

    When you make a new claim for Universal Credit your housing costs will usually be paid as part of your Universal Credit payment. If you are receiving Housing Benefit, the Department for Work and Pensions will contact your local authority to stop your Housing Benefit payments. At this point you will receive an additional payment of 2 weeks’ worth of Housing Benefit to support you as you move to Universal Credit.

    Paying your rent

    For most people, your Universal Credit payment will include money for your rent and it’s your responsibility you to make sure you pay that rent to us as your landlord. Our tenancy agreement says that you have to pay your rent in advance and once you are transferred to Universal Credit, you will need to make sure that it is paid on time.

    If you are worried you might struggle to do this, you can ask for the money to be paid direct to your landlord instead.

    Support and advice to manage rent payments

    Take a look at our 'Are you worried about money' webpages for details of how we can support and help you.

    There's also lots of advice about managing rent payments on universal credit on the Money Advice Service website.

    If your housing payment does not cover all your rent

    If you're struggling to cover the costs of your rent you can apply for extra help from your local council - called a Discretionary Housing Payment.

    If you're living in a shared ownership property, you can get help paying the rent and mortgage interest. You get the payment and you have to pay it to your housing association and mortgage company.

    Find out more about the Discretionary Housing Payment on the Turn2Us website.

    To apply for the payment, contact your council.

    Further information about housing costs

    Find out more about Universal Credit housing costs on the gov.uk website

    There is also useful information on the Turn2Us website

  • Universal Credit and Council Tax Support

    If you receive Universal Credit you may get a reduction on your Council Tax. This will depend on your circumstances and where you live.

    Apply for Local Council Tax Reduction

    If you are claiming Universal Credit for the first time you should apply for Local Council Tax Reduction straight away, as many local councils will not backdate it for you. You do not need to wait until your claim for Universal Credit has been approved or paid.

    Previously, housing benefit and council tax support were claimed together on the same form, but now Universal Credit (which contains a housing element) is claimed online from the Department of Work and Pensions, and council tax support from you local authority.

    Contact your local council to apply for a council tax reduction

Universal Credit – how to apply and further information

  • How do you apply for Universal Credit?

    In most cases you have to claim Universal Credit online, so you’ll need access to the internet and an email account.

    You also need a bank account, as this is how your universal credit is paid to you.

    Step by step guide: Take a look at the gov.uk website for a step by step guide of how to apply for Universal Credit.

    Your online application

    To apply online, you'll first need to set up an online account on the gov.uk website.

    If you live with your partner, they will also need to set up an account. You'll be given a code to link the accounts together.

    The video below shows you how to set up your Universal Credit account:

    Once you've set up your account you can begin your Universal Credit application.

    Completing an online claim takes about 20 minutes for a single person and an hour for a couple.

    You must submit your claim within 28 days of creating your account.

    The video below shows you how to complete the application:

    What you'll need to apply

    If you don't provide the right information when you apply it might affect when you get paid or how much you get.
    So, before you sit down at a computer to make your claim, make sure you have the following information to hand:

    • Your National Insurance Number
    • Your email address
    • Your phone number
    • Your address
    • Your landlord’s address
    • How much rent you pay (proof may be required, such as a tenancy agreement)
    • your bank, building society or credit union account details (call the Universal Credit helpline if you do not have one)
    • Details of any savings or investments you have
    • Full details of your salary, such as your payslips, or any other income (including other benefits)
    • Details of how much you pay for childcare if you’re applying for help with childcare costs

    If you have children:

    • Their details, including Child Benefit number
    • Childcare provider’s address and registration number

    You also have to verify your identity online. You’ll need some proof of identity for this, for example your:

    • driving licence
    • passport
    • debit or credit card

    If you cannot verify your identity online, the Universal Credit team will phone you to help you verify your identity.

    Support with your application

    If you need help with your application, please get in touch with us on 0300 1234 009 or enquirires@midlandsrural.org.uk

    There's also lots of support available from external support agencies:

    Citizens Advice Help to Claim service

    The Citizens Advice Help to Claim service can support you in the early stages of your Universal Credit claim, from the online application, through to support with your application before your first full payment.

    It’s a free, independent and confidential service provided by trained advisers from Citizens Advice.

    Call 0800 144 8444
    Find out more on the Help to Claim website

    Turn2Us

    Take a look at the Turn2Us How to Claim guidance on their website.

    Universal Credit helpline

    Contact the Universal Credit helpline if:

    • you cannot use digital services at all, this might be due to disability or your circumstances
    • you have a question about your claim and cannot access your online claim

    Telephone: 0800 328 5644
    Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
    Universal Credit helpline website

  • More information about Universal Credit

    You can find lots more detailed guidance on the following websites:

    Money Advice Service

    Citizens Advice

    Turn2Us

    Gov.uk

Other benefits


  • New Style Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

    If you have worked as an employee and paid enough National Insurance contributions you may also be able to get either New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

    You can apply for ESA if you have a disability or health condition that affects how much you can work.

    You need to apply for New Style JSA or New Style ESA separately to Universal Credit. You can apply for them and Universal Credit at the same time. If you get these benefits at the same time as you get Universal Credit, your Universal Credit payments will be reduced. For every £1 you receive from them, your Universal Credit payment will be reduced by £1.

    For help and support:
    - with a JSA application, contact the Jobcentre Plus helpline on 0800 055 6688
    - with an ESA application, contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 (choose option 3)

  • Pension credit

    Pension credit is a tax-free, means-tested benefit to help with your living costs if you’re over state pension age and on a low income. It can be worth £1,000s a year and can give you access to other benefits including council tax discounts and free TV licences for over-75s.

    Almost 1m eligible households don't claim, often because they don't know they can.

    Find out if you’re eligible with the pension credit calculator.

  • Coronavirus related benefits

    Visit our coronavirus benefits page to find out more about furlough, tax relief and grants.

  • 100s of free Level 3 qualifications

    As part of the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, if you're 19 or over you can now access a course for free.

    There are 2 options available: Level 3 qualifications and Skills Bootcamps. Previously, if you were aged 24 or over, you would have had to pay the course fee for these qualifications. Now, many colleges and training providers have funding available to cover this cost for you.

    Free level 3 qualifications

    If you’re 19 or over and do not already have a full level 3 qualification (equivalent to an advanced technical certificate or diploma, or A levels) you can access a free qualification.

    The 100s of courses on offer range from accounting to engineering to science. Some are available to study online or part-time.

    The courses will help you improve your job and wage prospects and gain skills needed by employers.

    Skills bootcamps

    Skills bootcamps offer free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, an opportunity to build up specialist skills and fast-track to an interview with a local employer.

    They are available to you if you are aged 19 or over and are either in work or recently unemployed (some skills bootcamps have additional eligibility criteria).

    Developed in partnership with employers, colleges and local authorities, they help people develop the skills that are in demand in their local area and get a better job. They include a range of digital courses and technical skills courses, like construction or engineering.

    Claiming Universal Credit

    To help unemployed people take full advantage of these courses, the government is trailing an extension to the length of time they can receive Universal Credit (UC) while undertaking work-focused study.

    The amount of time UC claimants can take part in full-time training will extend to up to 12 weeks - up from the current eight weeks - or up to 16 weeks on a skills bootcamp.

    Find out more

    Find out more about the courses, locations, eligibility and how to apply.

    As this is new, some of the course provider links (in the link above) don't yet mention how these free courses work, so you may need to call them to find out more.

  • Benefit checking tool

    The government has launched a new benefits checking tool to help people get a quick idea of what financial support they may be able to claim.

    It takes a few minutes and doesn’t require detailed information, nor does it process or store personal data. It is an easy first step for anyone who is unsure whether they want to start a claim.

    Check what benefits you may be able to claim

You may also find the following pages helpful:

If you have any questions, please contact us on 0300 1234 009 and ask to speak to a member of the housing management team.