What you need to know about Universal Credit and COVID-19?

With 1.2 million new claims made for Universal Credit in the final two weeks of March it’s clear the pandemic is causing financial stress for many people. Therefore the Government has had to review how Universal Credit is delivered.
We’re here to help people through this crisis and offer advice on Universal Credit. We’ve highlighted 10 features you need to know about the scheme as well as 10 things which have changed due to the impact of the coronavirus.
Note: please be aware that you will never be asked for personal information or bank details by the Government by text or email. Keep your personal information protected.

10 features you need to know
1. Universal Credit is designed to replace earnings for those of working age who are unable to work or who do not earn enough to live on without support. This includes people who are self-employed. It is means-tested.
2. The rules of benefit entitlement include age, income, immigration status and more and these have not changed due to the pandemic.
3. A Universal Credit payment is made up of elements which are standard, housing and other.
4. It is an online benefit. You must apply and manage your claim online although in an exceptional circumstance claims can be made and managed over the phone.
5. You must agree and comply with a ‘claimant commitment’ to receive the payment. If you don’t comply with this you may receive sanctions.
6. Applicants are still required to wait a minimum of five weeks for the first ‘on-time’ payment. Payments are then made in arrears on the same date each month.
7. It is possible to make alternative payment arrangements (APAs) such as fortnightly or split payments. Rent payments can also be made direct to your landlord.
8. It is possible to get an advance before the first scheduled payment, although these are repayable and depend on your circumstances.
9. You must notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through your work coach of any changes in your circumstances, this includes if you have been affected by COVID-19.
10. If you believe that a benefit decision has been made in error you do have the right to challenge this.

What has changed about Universal Credit?
1. The standard element of Universal Credit has been increased by £20 per week from April 2020. Local Housing Allowance rates have also increased. This applies to new applicants and existing claimants.
2. Jobcentres have now closed and face-to-face meetings have been suspended. The most vulnerable people may have a home visit. This doesn’t affect your payments.
3. If you are unable to verify your identity online when applying, you no longer need to arrange an appointment with Jobcentre Plus. They will call you for further details. You can help this process by leaving a message on your online journal requesting a call-back and detailing your attempts to verify your ID.
4. If you had a scheduled medical appointment relating to your application you do not need to attend, you will be called to discuss your claim.
5. If you have been affected by coronavirus and don’t already receive Universal Credit, you can make a new application and receive a month’s advance without needing to physically attend a Jobcentre. You should check your entitlement before applying.
6. If you are claiming incapacity from work due to COVID-19 you do not need to provide the usual ‘fit note’.
7. Usual claimant commitments, such as active job seeking, have been eased due to the lockdown conditions.
8. If you are an existing claimant, repaying overpayments has been suspended.
9. Previously there was a minimum income floor applied for self-employed claimants, this has now been suspended.
10. Furloughed workers, or those eligible for the Self Employed Income Support Scheme, can apply for Universal Credit depending on whether you fit the entitlement criteria although payments under either of these schemes will be counted as income when your claim is assessed.

Please also be aware that the Department for Work and Pensions Helpline for Universal Credit is extremely busy. If you have already made a claim you can use your online journal to contact your work coach.
This blog is accurate at the time of writing (17.04.20) however please note the scheme is subject to change and many of the changes highlighted are temporary.

Where to go for help:
To start a claim for Universal Credit visit: https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/how-to-claim
For more information from Citizens Advice on Universal Credit visit:
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/
If you need help claiming Universal Credit contact Citizens Advice ‘Help-to-Claim’ on 0800 144 8 444
To keep up with any new changes to Universal Credit due to COVID-19 visit:

Coronavirus and claiming benefits

Note: Independent advice services provided by Coventry Citizens Advice, Coventry Law Centre and Coventry Independent Advice Service are still available either by telephone, by email or by webchat. Contact their websites or social media feeds for further details.

edhodson