If you have already moved onto Universal Credit or soon will be, don't forget you must still claim Council Tax Support from the council. Universal Credit does not include an amount for Council Tax. Make sure you get your claim to us or you may find yourself in arrears with extra costs to pay.
Universal Credit is a new benefit for working-age people, replacing 6 existing benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit
Working age means you can apply from 18 years old (although there are some restrictions in place for claiming the housing element if you are under 21). However, there are some circumstances in which you can make a claim if you are 16 and 17, including if you are leaving care.
It will merge them into one monthly payment, paid directly to you in arrears (which means you will be paid at the end of each month you are claiming for).
Universal Credit is run by the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This means you apply directly to DWP and only DWP can answer any questions you have about your application or case. The council does not have access to your application or information, so you need to contact Universal Credit if you have a question about your application.
If you are already claiming one or more of these benefits you don’t need to do anything unless you are contacted by DWP. It's not automatically transferring people onto Universal Credit, so your benefits may not change unless you are making a new claim.
If you want to check how much benefit you may be entitled to, you can use this benefit calculator.
Council Tax Support
Council Tax Support is not included within Universal Credit payments and is still managed by the council. If you're liable to pay Council Tax, you may be eligible to claim Council Tax Support.
Who should claim Universal Credit
Only people making a new benefits claim need to apply for Universal Credit and, as with all benefits, there is eligibility criteria. If you are already claiming one or more of the 6 legacy benefits you don’t need to do anything unless DWP contacts you. No one is automatically being transferred onto Universal Credit, so your benefits may not change unless you are making a new claim.
There are some circumstances when you won’t be able to apply for Universal Credit if you are making a new benefit claim. In these circumstances you will still need to claim one of the 6 legacy benefits. These circumstances are if you are:
- of pensionable age (unless your partner is of working age)
- living in a council hostel, supported accommodation or temporary accommodation
Once you have claimed Universal Credit, you cannot go back to one of the six legacy benefits, even if your circumstances change. For example:
If you currently have two children and are claiming Universal Credit, you would remain on Universal Credit if you had a third child. You would not go back to legacy benefits.
How it works
DWP has a guide to Universal Credit to help you understand how it works and what this new benefit means for you. DWP manages Universal Credit, so you will need to complete its online application form to apply. You only need to apply if you have had a change in circumstances. If nothing has changed in your life, you don’t need to do anything.
You must make your claim as soon as you think you may be eligible, as your payment is calculated from the day you make your claim – claims will only be backdated in very exceptional circumstances.
Once you have made your claim, you will be invited to attend a meeting with Jobcentre Plus. You need to attend this meeting to get Universal Credit. If you don’t go, DWP might ask you to re-do your application.
You need to apply for Universal Credit online. When you apply, you will be given an online account where you need to put all of your details, including any changes to your circumstances. If you don’t have internet access at home or on a smart phone, there are a number of free and low cost public computers in council and community libraries.
You will need to manage your online account regularly (possibly everyday), keeping your details up to date, so that you carry on receiving your Universal Credit payments. If you don’t keep your online account up-to-date and complete any required tasks (such as looking for work), your benefit may be reduced or stopped, so it’s very important to log in regularly and do everything required.
When you set up this account, you will be asked how you want to be alerted when you need to update your account. You can decide if you want this alert by email or text. This means when you need to update something on your account, you will be sent an email or text – whichever you choose. In some cases, you will need to log into your account every day. This will be explained to you when you have your first meeting at Jobcentre Plus.
Universal Credit is usually claimed by a household, so for couples, one person would usually make the claim and payment will usually be paid to that person. Split payments may be made possible in certain circumstances.
If you start work, or if your work hours change you may still be eligible for Universal Credit, but you must update your Universal Credit account straight away.
To receive your payment, you will need a bank or building society current account, or an account with a credit union. The account must allow you to make and receive automated payments.
If you don’t already have an account like this, Money Advice Service has helpful information about the different options available.
If you think you will find it difficult to manage financially while you wait for your first payment, you can ask DWP for an advance payment. You should ask for this at your first interview at JobCentre Plus, or by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0345 600 0723.
Any advance payment must be paid back and will be taken from your future payments.
- which benefits you could get;
- how to claim; and
- how your benefits will be affected if you start work.
How to claim
The government has made a video explaining how to:
- make a Universal Credit claim
- create your online account
- confirm who you are
Help if you don’t have internet access
If you don’t have a smartphone, a home computer or tablet with internet access, you will still be expected to claim online. There are a number of free and low cost public computers in council and community libraries.
Help with making a claim
Barking and Dagenham Citizens Advice
Help to Claim is a dedicated service from Citizens Advice. It’s free, independent and confidential. Their trained advisers can help support you in the early stages of your Universal Credit claim, from the application, through to your first payment.
DWP phone and home service
If you are housebound and can’t visit Citizens Advice for help, you can contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 9344.
Paying your rent
Part of Universal Credit replaces Housing Benefit, so if you are eligible this will be included in your single monthly Universal Credit payment – it won’t be paid separately. This means you will be responsible for paying the full rent to your landlord if you are a council tenant or not.
It’s possible the housing part of your Universal Credit payment won’t cover all your rent, so you will need to cover any shortfall yourself.
Universal Credit can also include an amount to cover some service charges, including:
- shared facilities, such as rubbish collection or communal lifts;
- essential items in your home such as domestic appliances; and
- window cleaning of upper floors.
The Universal Credit guidance has more detailed information about Universal Credit and housing costs, including service charges and mortgage payments.
If you are a council tenant who has previously been on Housing Benefit, the rent would have been paid by the council directly into your rent account. When you receive Universal Credit, it is your responsibility to make sure your rent is paid in full and on time. The easiest way to do this is to pay by Direct Debit.
If you are behind with your rent payments by two months or more, your landlord can ask for an amount be taken out of your Universal Credit payment and paid directly to them. If this happens, this amount might not cover your full rent, so you would still have to cover any shortfall yourself.
If you are struggling to pay your rent it is very important that you get advice and support straight away and talk to your landlord. If you don’t pay your rent this can have serious consequences and you could lose your home.
We want to help you, so this doesn’t happen, so we have set up the Homes and Money Hub, who can offer budgeting advice and support if you are claiming Universal Credit and struggling to pay your rent and other bills. Find out more under the 'Help and budgeting advice' section on this page.
Discretionary Housing Payments
If you are receiving Universal Credit and you are struggling to pay your rent, or need help with a deposit and rent in advance, you may be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment. This is something we have in place to help people who need extra financial support, and it can be paid on top of your Universal Credit payment.
Discretionary Housing Payments are not a benefit and the council has a limited amount of money each year for people who need extra financial help. You can apply for this online using our My Account service.
Help paying your mortgage
If you or your partner own the home you live in, you may still be eligible to claim Universal Credit. As a part of your Universal Credit payment you could get a loan called Support for Mortgage Interest, to help pay the interest on your mortgage.
This is a government loan secured against your property; it will have to be paid back with interest when you sell or transfer ownership of your home. You can also make voluntary repayments.
If you have any questions about your application or Universal Credit payment, contact the Universal Credit helpline (the council does not have access to your account or your benefit information):
Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm on 0800 328 5644.
Local help and support
Money Advice Service
The Money Advice Service provides lots of advice on Universal Credit including helpful tips on paying your rent and having the right bank account. You can also use its money manager tool to receive free personal information and advice to help your money go further.
Citizens advice has advice for all stages of your claim. This includes advice on what you should do if something happens and your payments are reduced or stopped.
Benefit calculators can help show how you could be better off in work. There are independent sites online including:
Universal Credit is only replacing the six working age legacy benefits; many other benefits will continue to exist as normal.
Free school meals
If you claim any amount of Universal Credit, you are currently entitled to free school meals, but this may change at some stage.
NHS Choices explains the rules for getting help with health costs, such as free NHS prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests and travel to treatment costs. Pharmacists may ask to see evidence of your Universal Credit eligibility. You can either show your entitlement letter or show it electronically if you have a smartphone.
Prescription forms have not yet been updated to include a declaration box for Universal Credit. Until this is done, you can tick the ‘gets income-based Jobseekers Allowance’ box on the back of the prescription form.