Universal Credit

Welcome to our revised page dedicated to Universal Credit (UC). This is now fully rolled out across the UK  for all new claims for the main means tested benefits claimed by people of “working age” (from 16 to 66), although it may not be until 2026 that it will have fully taken over from them

The reason for this page is to help you deal with  UC’s special  tendency to create real barriers and difficulties for all claimants, but particularly for people living with a mental health issue. When you are facing difficulties taking in information or working through benefit  processes,  you may have an extra need for a benefit that is calm, welcoming, safe, reliable and that seems to know what it is doing.  And too often UC doesn’t quite manage that 😦

UC works in a very new way for those used to the old benefits. Now some people do actually prefer these ways,  but they do take getting used to. And for many people this is yet another in a long line of switches to a new benefit, with lot of worries, fears and misunderstandings about what UC is about, when you will actually need to get to grips with it and what’s involved in making that UC claim and how to keep it going.

What is Universal Credit (UC) ?

UC  is a not so new benefit that has been around since April 2013, but has only more recently become relevant for many people who are not active jobseekers. Uc  will eventually replace six of the main “working age” means tested benefits, namely: Income Support, Income-related ESA, Income-based JSA, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. These are often called the “legacy benefits”

So, UC is  not taking over the  benefits world, but will eventually replace these six legacy benefits Other means tested benefits such as Council Tax Reduction, Local welfare Assistance and health benefits stay outside UC as do all the non-means tested benefits: e.g. Contributory ESA and Personal Independence Payment

However,  the switch to UC has been delayed – DWP hope to have got there by the end of 2024, but other departments are planning it could take until 2026. Some 2 million people are still getting “legacy benefits”:

  • So if you are getting a legacy benefit,  it may be a long time before you do have to switch over to UC. And always check any official advice that you now need to switch over to UC,  as too often it turns out that you have a choice.
  • But Yes, if you are making entirely new claims for that main means tested support, then it has been for UC since the last parts of the UK switched to “full service UC back in December 2018.  That means that you cannot start an entirely  new claim for any of the legacy benefits and need to start a claim for UC instead.

Does a switch to UC mean yet another health assessment?

People with mental health issues have been bearing the brunt of welfare reform – and the expensive and failing system of assessments – for many years now :

  • the switch from Incapacity Benefit/Income Support to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – and the  revival of repeat Work Capability Assessments delayed during the Covid pandemic
  • the switch from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – where people with mental health difficulties have found that they are 2.4  times more likely to lose out than those with other health and disability issues.

That unfairness arises because of a general issue in all such non-specialist health assessments of a lack of awareness and lack of time to probe around the less visible and less easy to assess conditions – such as mental health.  In PIP’s cases – and despite Court challenges improving matters – there is still some mental health discrimination built into the design of the PIP test itself.

So the thought of having to undergo yet another assessment is causing a lot of worry, But the good news is that – for those moving over from Income-related ESA to UC  –  the answer to will I need to go through thas all over again? is  NO, you do NOT have to go through yet another health assessment just because you switch to UC.

Your existing ESA status is valid for UC,  as both benefits use exactly the same Work Capability Assessment, for those claiming via the sickness route.

And all that knowledge, resources and advice around getting through the WCA and the difficult task of expressing the difficulties you face, is out there and just as useful whether you are going through the WCA under ESA or UC.

The problems tend to be more in UC’s understanding and administration of that same test – and in much much else besides. It is here that UC’s design and practises are proving so difficult .

And that’s why UC needs a special page to re-assure when things are no longer so bad as you may have heard, to explain the too many pitfalls that are about  and to suggest ways around them.

What’s been the trouble with UC?

While it is customary, in the interests of fairness and balance to say that UC  started off life with genuinely good intentions and widespread support, it has failed to live up to that promise in a spectacular way, according to repeated Court judgements, and reports by the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Select Committee and the National Audit Office.

The initial UC response has been a culture of denial of all problems and stating as fact that no change was possible. But big changes have been possible  – and real improvements made – but only as a result of serious pressure, media attention and taking the DWP to Court, every step resisted by UC for fear of upsetting the computer timetable.

So UC is uniquely chaotic and dysfunctional, with a very different organisational culture pressed from an ivory tower by a uniquely political DWP on a mission.   Of course all benefits seem to start off  life in a woeful state of chaos and unpreparedness, but they usually settle down  after a while.  But UC is rather different:

  • it is ill thought and poorly designed in too many areas,  with all the joined up thinking and claims for UC largely focusing on UC as a sort of  “turbocharged JSA with digital knobs on” -. Yet, eventually,  only 2% of UC claimants will be active jobseekers.
  • UC is badly applied in practise, with struggling, overworked – and not always fully informed staff – sometimes appearing to make it up as they go along, jettisoning legal duties to explain decisions clearly, or to act on requests for reconsideration.
  • UC comes with a very different organisational culture based on your “claimant responsibility”, an abandonment of the Department’s own, big gaps in how the benefits system works and feeds into UC and a confusion that UC’s greater flexibility does not mean that UC is not bound by its own rules and due legal process.

The aim of this page s not to make people unduly anxious about having to deal with UC. It is very true, that many – and possibly even most – claims can go smoothly and your encounters with UC go well. It’s just that there are too many common, and repeated problem areas:.

UC’s problem areas in practise.

The practical upshot is that  UC presents real extra barriers and problem areas to those living with mental health issues. For example:

  • even when all goes well,  you have to learn and get to grips with UC’s deliberately very different way of doing benefits.
  • you may get duff advice about whether you need to switch over to UC or not
  • it’s a very different online world of claiming and keeping your account going – some people like the new way of doing things, but for others it can feel very strange and difficult. DWP are now funding Citizens Advice to help you start off your claim but they are not funding any further support during your claim.
  • you may be wrongly told that you have to undergo a Work Capability Assessment on switching over to UC from ESA. You do not
  • if you first become unwell on UC and do have to go through the WCA, you can’t always depend on UC to get that process right and avoid significant delays compared to ESA
  • extra amounts for sickness and rent can too easily be missingfrom your first payment
  • there are no extra adult disability elements in UC
  • basic understandings around  – e.g. how carers benefits relate to UC or how to deal with a special rules claim for the most unwell – are too often lacking
  • UC fails to offer the same safe space or financial incentives to try work when you are ready. It fails to make work pay for those with a health issue or disability
  • you may have picked up the message that everyone is a jobseeker on UC and know you couldn’t cope with that.  That is not true but is rooted in daft pronouncements from ministers the DWP and UC’ first 4 years as a jobseeker only benefit. UC now has the full range of different work conditions, including the  equivalents of the ESA work related activity and support groups, on the same terms
  • you may be very worried about surviving for the first 5 weeks – there is much better help available while you wait for your first UC payment
  • you may be worried about sanctions. Unfortunately they still continue – with as little evidence of any effective purpose – and a rise in the ones that used to apply to ESA. Always  get advice and challenge a sanction.
  • you may be worried about getting rent payments sorted and not getting into arrears . There are ways in which you can help UC get this right and on time, but they still have a lot of learning to do.

This page is here to help 🙂

The aim of further postings, resources , and links from this page is not to just have a go at UC 🙂 .

Rather it is to clear up some myths and offer some re-assurance, to offer reliable information and practical resources in key areas and suggest ways round the too many pitfalls that UC currently has .

Yes, you can find the latest full information on UC – as well as PIP and ESA – in the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2018 -20 – see details on the page  here. But not everyone can afford one or has access to a copy.

So this page is about sharing some of this information and resources with no charge or obligation 🙂

Some useful UC resources:

  • Survival a claim for UC : Top Tips  A walk through some of the common problem areas and what you can do to reduce the risk of hitting snags or tips if you do.- available by clicking the link here 
  • To claim or not claim UC – A general flowchart of when a change in circumstances might lead to a need to switch from “legacy benefits to UC. The DWP often get this wrong – please click here
  • Table of changes examples of changes in circumstances and whether you have to switch to UC, whether you can’t and when there’s a choice .The DWP often get this wrong – please click here
  • Calculation Sheet 2022-23 – Gives you all the information to hand to work out your entitlement to UC  – please click here

In that way, we hope to make some contribution to reducing the toll that UC may take on people’s finances, mental well being and lives.

It’s not much, but we hope in time the posts, links and materials from this page will build into something useful.

With warmest wishes for the bestest of luck. 🙂