Ask CPAG Online - When Does Natural Migration onto Universal Credit Happen?

'Natural migration' from legacy benefits onto universal credit (UC) can happen at any time when a change of circumstances would normally require you to make a new claim for a legacy benefit, which is precluded because you live in a UC 'full service area' or live in a 'gateway area' and satisfy the gateway conditions (see Where Does Natural Migration onto UC Happen?)

In what circumstances does natural migration happen?

The following examples illustrate common situations in which natural migration may apply to you:

  • You are getting employment and support allowance (ESA) and fail the work capability assessment. If you live in a UC full service area, you cannot claim income-based jobseeker's allowance (IBJSA) while you are challenging the decision via a mandatory reconsideration. You will have to claim UC to get help with your living expenses and housing costs. If you live in a gateway area, you cannot claim UC because one of the gateway conditions is that you are not disputing an ESA decision. You can, therefore, claim JSA and natural migration onto UC will not happen. Note, however, that if you claim JSA before you have asked for a mandatory reconsideration of the ESA decision, natural migration onto UC may happen because you may satisfy the gateway conditions.

  • You are getting JSA and become sick. You may be able to stay on JSA for up to 13 weeks (see Chapter 33(1) of the Handbook) but if you live in a full service area, you cannot claim income-related ESA (IRESA) once you are no longer entitled to JSA. You will have to claim UC to get help with your living expenses and housing costs. If you live in a gateway area, you cannot claim UC because one of the gateway conditions is that you must not state that you are unfit for work or have limited capability for work. You can, therefore, claim ESA and natural migration onto UC will not happen.

  • You are a lone parent and lose your entitlement to income support (IS) when your youngest child reaches 5. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim IBJSA and will have to claim UC to get help with your living expenses and housing costs. If you live in a gateway area, you cannot usually claim UC (and can, therefore, claim JSA) unless you live an area which accepts claims from people with children and you satisfy the other gateway conditions. 

  • You are getting JSA and have your first child. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim child tax credit (CTC) or IS and will have to claim UC instead. If you live in a gateway area, you cannot usually claim UC (and can, therefore, claim CTC and IS) unless you live in an area which accepts claims from people with children and you satisfy the other gateway conditions.

  • You are getting JSA and become a full-time carer which means you can no longer satisfy the jobseeking conditions. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim IS as a carer and will need to claim UC to get help with your living expenses (including a carer's element) and housing costs. If you live in a gateway area, you cannot claim UC as a carer, and can claim IS.

  • You are getting housing benefit (HB) and move into a full service area. You cannot make another claim for HB and will need to claim UC to get help with your housing costs.

  • You are getting a legacy benefit when you become or stop being a member of a couple. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim another legacy benefit as a single person or a member of a couple and will have to claim UC instead. If you live in a gateway area, this only applies if the gateway conditions are satisfied. If your partner is already on UC, you cannot claim a legacy benefit and will have to claim UC as a couple.

In what circumstances will natural migration not happen?

The following examples illustrate common situations in which natural migration should not happen when your circumstances change:

  • You live in a gateway area and do not satisfy the gateway conditions - see above for examples of changes of circumstances which do not trigger natural migration.

  • You are getting ESA and fail the work capability assessment. As long as you do not claim another legacy benefit or UC, you can get IRESA pending an appeal (and backdated to cover the period the DWP), even if you live in a full service area. This is because this does not involve making a new claim for IRESA (see regulation 3(j) of the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987) and only an actual claim for a legacy benefit is precluded (see What is Natural Migration onto Universal Credit?). The DWP originally took the view that you could not get IRESA pending appeal in these circumstances, but has has now confirmed to CPAG that this is not the case. Note, however, that if your HB stopped when your ESA stopped, you cannot make a new claim for HB, so you should ensure that your HB claim continues (e.g. on the basis of you having a 'nil income').

  • You are already getting tax credits and you have a child or start working. Getting extra tax credits, including qualifying for CTC or working tax credits for the first time, does not involve making a new claim for tax credits, so that even if you live in a full service area, this should not result in you having to claim UC.

  • You are getting HB and move to new accommodation within the same local authority area. This should be treated as a change in circumstances affecting your existing claim (see regulation 79(2A) HB Regulations 2006) and not require you to make a new claim for HB, so that even if you live in a full service area, you should be able to stay on HB and not have to claim UC.

  • You have a change of circumstances which affects the amount of your current legacy benefit, but does not require you to claim another legacy benefit. Examples include where you are getting JSA and are subject to a sanction (you do not have to reclaim JSA to get it after your sanction,or to get a 'hardship payment' during the sanction), or you are getting IS and your youngest child has a birthday but is still under 5, or you qualify for an extra premium with your legacy benefit. 

How can you check if you will be subject to natural migration?

The following questions should help you to check whether and when you may be affected by natural migration:

1. Do you live in a UC 'gateway area'? If yes, you can claim UC if you satisfy the gateway conditions. If you satisfy the gateway conditions, you may be affected by natural migration - go to question 3. If you do not satisfy the gateway conditions, you will not be affected by natural migration. If no, - go to question 2.

2. Do you live in a UC 'full service area'? If yes, there are no gateway conditions and you will be affected by the UC rules if you make a new claim for a legacy benefit or for UC - go to question 3. If no - go to question 1.

3. Have you had a change in your circumstances (e.g. you have become sick, or had a child)? If yes, go to queston 4. If no, you will only be subject to natural migraton if you decide nevertheless to submit a claim for UC – go to question 7.

4. Does the change in your circumstances mean that you need to make a new claim for a legacy benefit? For example, have you fallen long-term sick and need to stop claiming income-based JSA and claim income-related ESA instead? Or have you had a child and are not already getting CTC or WTC? Or have you moved to new rented accommodation and need to make a new claim for housing benefit? If yes - go to question 5. If no, because your change of circumstances just alters your current award of a legacy benefit but does not bring it to an end, or does not mean you need to make a new claim for a legacy benefit, you will only be subject to natural migration if you decide nevertheless to claim UC – go to question 7.

5. Does your change of circumstances mean that you need to make a new claim for ESA or JSA? If yes, IRESA and IBJSA are abolished for you if live in a full service area or live in a gateway area and satisfy the gateway conditions, and you will need to claim UC instead. Your entitlement to other legacy benefits is terminated when you claim UC - go to question 6. If no, go to question 6.

6. Does your change of circumstances mean that you need to make a claim for another legacy benefit? If yes, you cannot do so if you live in a full service area or live in a gateway area and satisfy the gateway conditions, and you will need to claim UC instead. If no - go to question 7

7. Have you claimed UC? If yes, as long you satisfy the basic rules for UC your entitlement to legacy benefits will be terminated straight away. Once you are entitled to UC, you are not entitled to legacy benefits and cannot make a new claim for them. If no, natural migration will not happen unless and until you claim UC.

Can natural migration be reversed?

The official intention is that once you have become entitled to UC, you cannot choose to instead claim legacy benefits (the requirement to stay on UC once you have become entitled to it is sometimes referred to as the 'lobster pot' principle).

If you live in a UC full service area, you can never make a new claim for a legacy benefit, even if you do not claim or stop claiming UC.  

If you live in a UC gateway are', your entitlement to UC continues even if you no longer satisfy the gateway conditions. If, however, your award of UC ends (including if you stop claiming UC) and you no longer satisfy the gateway conditions, you should be able to make a new claim for legacy benefits, including IBJSA or IRESA which are only abolished if you have a current award of UC or claim UC, JSA or ESA and satisfy the gateway conditions (see What is Natural Migration onto Universal Credit?  Note, however, that if your UC award ends because your earnings are too high, you retain an underlying entitlement to UC for 6 months and cannot claim legacy benefits in that period.

Example:

You live in a UC gateway area. Your IRESA (and HB) stopped when you failed the work capablity assessment and you were migrated onto UC when you tried to claim IBJSA because you satisfied the gateway conditions. Your health has deteriorated and you have become unfit for work. Although this means you would no longer satisfy the gateway conditions, your UC award continues. You could, however, terminate your award by withdrawing your claim. You should then be able to claim legacy benefits again, including IRESA (subject to the normal rules of having 'limited capablity for work') and HB because you no longer satisfy the gateway conditions. You may be better off than you were on UC because, for example, you qualify for an enhanced and severe disabilty premium which are payable with IRESA but not with UC.  

Note, however, that withdrawing your UC claim is a serious step to take, with no guarantee that the DWP and / or local authority will accept your claims for legacy benefits without delay or argument. You should only do so after seeking advice to ensure you will be better off on legacy benefits and that you terminate your claim at the begining of your assessment period to avoid losing up to a month's benefit. You should also bear in mind that if your circumstances change again, you may be subject to natural migration back onto UC again, and that from July 2019, the process of 'managed migration' onto UC DWP is scheduled to begin (see Universal Credit Natural Migration).